The first time I first met Anthony Wright, I threw a rock at him.
Anthony Wright. Noted scholar. Famous researcher , he ended the dark age caused when Ezekial set off his Thirteen Axis bomb and turned everything that ran on electricity into paperweights. There are estimates on how many people died just from that, from the failure of hospital equipment, cars careening out of control, planes falling out of the sky, and all the rest, but the humbers stop mattering when it's that many people and life changes on that large of a scale for a world used to modern convenience. The surge of raw mana that flooded the world after that isn't going to subside anytime soon, certainly not in our lifetimes, but Wright and his team adapted technology, re-engineered power plants, cars, computers, brought the twentieth century back into the twentieth century. Not that all those things were enough for Wright, he topped it all by being the man to fight Ezekial Snowe, and brought a skyscraper down on top of him.
Not that something as minor as a collapsed building could kill Ezekial, but Wright had that figured out. He already realized that Ezekial had tied his lifeforce, not his soul, but the very essence of his life, into a physical object. He also had a good idea of where Ezekial's tower was, so it wasn't long after the collapsing skyscraper fight that he showed up with his gang of heroic merry men. I think they were a little put off when they arrived to see me sitting on the porch with a shotgun. It wasn't some heroic fight between the great wizard of the light Wright and Walker, apprentice to the most evil wizard in recent history. Evil wizard with the highest bodycount, anyway. He was able to grab the gun with a force spell and push it away before I could even blink. Then we talked. His teammates seemed impatient, and wanted to just break down the door and ransack the place, which was kind of why I was waiting with the shotgun in the first place, but Wright kept them back, and talked to me, like an equal. Or at least not like an enemy, I'm not certain men like Wright consider other people their equals. He told me what he was there for, talked about the war, tried hard to convince me that the right thing to do was to switch sides, give him the rock, and torch the tower. Offered me amnesty, money, the usual stuff.
Well, I didn't torch the tower, Ezekial was dead, I called dibs on his stuff, and it would take someone unauthorized a decade to break through the wards the old man had set up on the place, even someone like Wright. I didn't exactly switch sides, although I'd learned enough about the war over the years to realize I wasn't on Ezekial's side and didn't want to be. I knew where Ezekial's life force was, kind of hard to miss the big glowing rock that I wasn't allowed to touch on pain of death. When I turned and went inside, I think Wright really did think I'd turned down his generous offer. When I opened a second story window and threw the rock at his head, they thought I was attacking them. With rocks. I'm an accredited wizard of the third circle, and could probably add several more circles to that if I could be bothered to do more accreditation. I do not attack my enemies by throwing rocks at them. I just wanted to have the tower wards between us, in case Wright reneged on his end of the deal. In the end, he had the rock, he confirmed it to be Ezekial's lifestone, they broke it with some magic sword, and that was the end of the war. Ezekial's army collapsed without their leader, it takes a fair amount of magically induced coercion to make that many wizards all work together for the sake of one man's goal, wizards tend toward egomania and megalomania, especially the evil ones. Or maybe it's the head full of crazy that makes some wizards evil in the first place.
The second time I met Anthony Wright, I took him up on his offer to attend a wizard school, to learn what I could learn at what was already being called the most prestigious school of magical learning the world had ever known.
Wright made a lot of money off his victory, wrote some books, made a lot of appearances, but he funneled most of it into the recovery effort. Entire towns and villages in France and Germany had been turned into craters from some of the messier fights, and the death toll was nearly as high as that from the Thirteen Axis. The money Wright didn't spend on that, he dumped into the school.
Anthony Wright, Jacob Albright, Alice Reynolds, Jiro Yamada, and dozens of other high profiles wizards, witches, sorcerers, warlocks, and mages all dumped new money, family fortunes, ancient secret scrolls, old libraries, and anything and everything needed for the school. They named the school after Steven Albright, Jacob's father, who started the resistance effort against Ezekial while Wright was re-engineering technology, and made Albright the headmaster. He wanted Wright to do it, but Anthony Wright was too busy flying around the world, keeping track of his research organization, making sure the last pockets of Ezekial's army were captured or dead, and otherwise too busy to do more than give a monthly lecture on what was turning into a brand new field of study, the combination of magic and modern technology. So the rest of the trustees stuck Albright with the job, probably felt he was more reliable anyway. It was three years after the war ended when Anthony Wright showed up on my doorstep again. This time, he knocked, and I didn't bother with the shotgun. We made small talk, current events, on respective current projects, but he was a man with a purpose. He wanted me to go to school. Albright Academy. I wasn't thrilled with the prospect, but he eventually convinced me to at least go, spend a semester or two studying in the biggest magical library in North America. As the owner of the second biggest magical library, I was kind of curious which volumes were missing from my collection, and if I had anything they didn't.
Eventually, I found myself packing for my trip north. I wasn't expecting to permanently move into the Academy, I really didn't expect to stay more than a few months. I had talked on the phone with Wright, and with Albright in his capacity as headmaster. I wasn't totally impressed with what I heard about the teaching staff, the students, or the topics covered. but I wasn't totally turned off. There were subjects I hadn't explored, experts I'd never met. The school had been open for two years, and was gaining prestige, was already being called the greatest institution of magical learning in the world. A regular Hogwarts, but I had no interest in being Harry Potter. I was interested, but not optimistic. In any event, I wanted to be well stocked while I was there. If for no better reason than to be able to work on personal projects in my spare time. I had potion ingredients and paraphernalia boxed up already, a few wands I was tinkering with, my clothes shoved into a bag. I hadn't had nearly enough time to finish cataloging even a tenth of Ezekial's stuff, I certainly wasn't going to bring things I hadn't even identified. The dragons had odd ideas about what I should take from his collection.
"I'm certain I won't need the cursed swords. Can't imagine what situation could come up where I would need any of them. Can't imagine why Master felt he needed so many of them around." I threw the wrapped bundle of swords toward the green dragon. "Get them out of the way and help me find the silver crystals, I'll need a few of them to finish that wand trigger project I was sketching out." Maybe it's stupid to make a wand with a physical trigger instead of a verbal one, but it could still be useful, and in magic, constant adaptation is one way to stay ahead of the game.
Argen snorted, a rough, deep, thoroughly dismissive snort that only dragons seem to be able to produce. He never talked much then, and he hasn't gotten much better with age. But he did as I asked, and shoved the wrapped bundle of swords under one of the tables lining the large storage room. One of a dozen such storage rooms just on the one floor of the tower. Wizards are packrats, it's an occupational hazard, but the Master took it to absurd levels. When I was young, I assumed he lived in a tower because he was a wizard, and obviously wizards had t o live in towers. Later, I realized it was because he needed over fifty storage rooms to hold all the stuff he'd acquired over the years. I can't really call it junk. I've barely sorted through a part of it, but everything I've been able to identify has been something interesting or useful. Even the cursed swords were probably fascinating to study. Just don't know why he had so many.
With a smoky chuckle, my other dragon, Igen, bounded onto the table to look me in the eye. "And what will you take, my Bright Lord?" Dragons have this thing about calling humans by name. They don't do it. Argen calls me Contractor, Igen calls me Bright Lord, and the few other dragons I've met usually called me fool, dead wizard, or dinner. "Countless treasures and components of over half a century spent collecting abide in these halls, you have picked over barely the surface of them."
I hefted the bag in front of me, testing its weight, and grabbed the box of crystals from Argen. "I'll take the minimum required. Enough that I don't have to put my work aside." I shoved the box into the bag and zipped it up. "I don't expect we'll be gone long, there won't be much to learn at this school. A few weeks spent impressing children and self-taught conjurers some real magic, maybe pick Wright's brain a bit, and we'll be right back here in time to dig in for the winter."
With my bags packed, I was ready to head off. I didn't fly to school, not on a plane, certainly not on a broom. I made a flying broom when I was twelve. If witches or wizards ever seriously attempted to use brooms as a means of transport, I can only assume the fad died quickly when they got tired of straddling a piece of wood to get places. I didn't take a train, walk through a portal, or instantaneously teleport myself through sheer force of will. I'm at least familiar with all those methods of travel, but mostly, they aren't worth the effort involved. Still, my master, Ezekial Snow, often took me with him to gather odd spell components, rare artifacts, or to talk to other wizards sympathetic to his views. It took some years for me to learn that Ezekial's views involved a ruling wizard elite crushing the nonmagical peons beneath our heels. Regardless of his intent, he was thorough in reaching me how to travel, whether I needed to move quickly or slowly, magically or mundane.
I drove to the Albright Academy for the Magically Gifted. Over a thousand miles, but the old Chrysler took it in stride. They really don't make them like that anymore, I value that truck more than almost anything else I inherited following Ezekial's death. So I drove through eight states, made a few detours along the way. Ezekial's habits of acquiring components and talking to specialists in obscure branches of magic had rubbed off on me, I guess. I sought out experts on calling spirits and beings of the Outer Reaches, cheating against Death, bending time and space, throwing energy. The necromancer was a conman, the spirit invoker tried to offer me to some dark god or another, and the energy specialist was a ninety year old shut-in who refused to see me. I was shot at several times, chased by the police for a fair stretch of highway, and I considered several times just turning around and going home. At one point, against my better judgment, I picked up a hitchhiker.
We were somewhere in Virginia when I happened to mention my vocation. "So, you're a real wizard?" Theresa looked me up and down, trying to spot a wand or a staff or a pointy hat. I make wands as a hobby, I certainly don't need to always carry one. "You look… normal." She sounded disappointed. I'd stopped to pick her up in Pennsylvania, not long after I'd stopped to see that fake necromancer. Said she was on her way back to Washington DC, was coming back after a leave of absence to some desk job at some government agency or another I didn't catch the name of. She seemed young, but no younger than me. Pretty sort, although I'm a terrible judge, blonde, well dressed, and annoyingly chipper. Even when she was disappointed that I didn't look like Harry Potter or Gandalf, she took it in stride. The dragons were curled up in the back seat, I don't think she even noticed them as she kept talking. Annoyingly chipper, but had the kind of attitude that draws you into a conversation. So eventually, I told her I was going to the Albright Academy after I finished visiting specialists around the eastern half of the country.
"Albright Academy? The big wizard school, in Michigan? I've heard they have dozens of teachers covering every topic of magic, and the biggest library of magical lore in the world!" Her eyes gleamed.
"Don't believe everything you hear," I warned her. "The Vatican has the biggest library of magical lore in the world, supposed to be a vault the size of a football field. A guy I know kept trying to get them to loan him books, and when they wouldn't, he tried to hire a professional thief to steal them for him. Didn't end well, I think he ended up getting a stern letter from the Pope." Ezekiel really wanted some of those books, but after the guy he hired was caught, he got a letter signed by the Pope and the Vatican's wizard, seemed to take the wind out of his sails. Even at the height of the war when he had ten thousand wizards and at least five times as many normals at his back and was storming across Europe to attack Wright's research center, where they were testing the prototype magic-proofed generators, engines, and computers, Ezekiel avoided Rome entirely.
I continued. "As for Albright's library, I'm sure it will be impressive, but I've seen a lot of impressive magical libraries. My old teacher was the kind of guy who believed in field trips. I'm not sure Albright will have anything I haven't already seen." Hell, Ezekiel had a library to rival any in North America. Well, I suppose at this point I had that library, but I was still getting used to the idea then that everything Ezekiel had owned was mine now.
"Listen to you!" she admonished, but she was still smiling. "The way you talk, it sounds like you don't even want to go there at all." She pulled back a few loose strands of blonde hair, shaking her head at what she perceived as my big talk.
Well, she had that right. "Honestly, I don't really want to. I've had one of the best magical educations, the old style, master and apprentice kind of education. I've studied in every discipline, been casting spells since before I had adult teeth. I'll go to the Albright Academy, but I thoroughly expect to be disappointed by everything. The students are going to be pathetically below my skill level, I'll probably know more than most of the teachers." This had been the main reason I had hesitated to accept Wright's invitation.
She seemed affronted. I guess when you think something sounds so amazing, hearing somebody smack it down is kind of an insult. "Then why are you going at all? If you know so much, why bother wasting your time driving there and spending time there?"
I shrugged. "There's always the slim chance I'm wrong, but I rather doubt it. Mostly, it's a matter of power. My power, their power. I want to know how strong they are, want to see how I measure up."
"You want to compare your power, a wizard who's been practicing since he was a child, to a bunch of students who have been learning at a school that's only a couple years old?"
"Compare myself to the students. The teachers. Anthony Wright and Jacob Albright. I want to see where I stand."
"So you're going to go to the most prestigious magical school in the world so you can challenge everybody you meet to a magical pissing contest?"
"It's not a…" Well, she kind of had me there. Whatever my talk of wanting to know where I stood, ultimately, it was useless knowledge. It was essentially, as she put it, a pissing contest with the other wizards for no stakes. "Well, I still want to know."
She scoffed at that, didn't quite laugh at me, though I could see she wanted to. "Well, you might be surprised. Just try to give it a chance. I realize you're the big bad superwizard who can't possibly learn anything from these neophytes or their teachers." Neophytes, not the word I would have gone with, but about perfect to describe how I'd been thinking of the students. "But you should at least try. Even if you can't learn anything there, then teach them what you can. You seem to respect magical knowledge a lot, so spread your knowledge around. Maybe you sharing what you know will spark a golden age of magical discoveries."
I had spent years poring over tomes, scratching for every scrap of information Ezekiel saw fit to share, poking my nose where I shouldn't have to gain the knowledge I had. The idea of just telling everything to a bunch of snot nosed brats... I didn't like it, but I could accept it. Theresa was right, the pursuit of greater knowledge required a knowledgeable magical community. The thousands of wizards who had died in the war had been the powerful, the skilled, the knowledgeable, on both sides. It was time to start replenishing our numbers. If that meant I had to waste my time teaching bean sprouts instead of experimenting, building, and pushing my own boundaries... well, who said I couldn't still do that? Maybe Albright would set me up with a research budget.
Our conversation turned to lighter fare after that, I described my time in New England and the projects I had left on the back burner. Theresa told me what living in the capital was like since the reveal of the magical world. The wizard police interspersed with the regular, the US Department of Magic making a general mess of things. Apparently there was some debate in the courts about whether or not spellcasting counts as free speech. I've never really followed politics, never did find out how that ended. It seemed like almost no time later that I was dropping her off in front of a nondescript office building in DC, having somehow exchanged numbers with her.
Theresa's suggestions that I should look positively on my new schooling circled through my head, made me think of Wright, and I flashed back to the showdown on my front porch. Wright had done right by me then, when his friends and allies were all encouraging him to kill me and destroy what was mine, he talked, he bargained, he really wanted me to choose not to support Ezekiel
Eventually, after a shootout in Pennsylvania with a cult worshiping some kind of swamp monster, an afternoon spent futilely trying to talk to an insane recluse, and a brief highway chase with some police who mistook my truck for that of a guy on the run from them, I reached the school. At first, the other students were shocked I was there, once they realized who I was. I was William Walker, the mythical apprentice to the madman who kicked off the greatest magical war in history. I was evil incarnate, I was Darth Vader to these people. Not necessarily a bad comparison, I actually can force choke people. It's dangerous for a bored wizard to watch movies, they might make him think "I can do that better." Overall, they took it pretty well that I was going to be around for a while. Only a few screamed, and nobody tried to attack me. I met Jacob Albright at the gate. When I shook has hand and applied the power of my will, he pushed back. He knew I wanted to test him, and he accepted that. He was strong, I was stronger, if only by a hair. We discussed the possibilities of what I'd be doing over tea and chess game in his office.
"Well William, the fact is that you have a far deeper education than most students here can hope to achieve. We have teachers, classrooms, and libraries, but you lived and breathed magic in a way beyond many of us here."
I frowned at that and pushed a pawn forward. "Are you suggesting you dragged me all the way up here just to tell me to my face that there's nothing for me to learn?"
He shifted a bishop, taking my pawn. "Not at all. Your education as been deep, and in the field's you've been studied, I feel you could match many of our teachers. But no man can know everything, I suspect you'll find many areas in which you thought yourself proficient that you will realize have depths you never realized existed. Not to mention areas you've never studied. I've gone out of my way to try to attract masters of as many disciplines as I could find. But you'll never fit into the standard class schedule. You'll be bored to tears with the beginners classes, and probably hijack the advanced lectures to explain why they're wrong"
Knight takes bishop. "Well, yes, I probably would. What are you suggesting?"
He pushed forward a pawn of his own. "Many of the upper level students are given their own laboratory and workspace for independent study, with the caveat that they teach a class at least once a week, in one of the fields they've excelled in. Ideally, I would like you to start there. You'd have a small stipend, plus expenses, full access to the library and supply storage, within reason, and I'm sure any of the teachers would be more than willing to offer advice or act as a sounding board. Outside of that, I would ask that you at least pick some classes to attend, at least once in a while. Find where your knowledge is lacking, and build it up."
I frowned and moved my queen. "Sounds good except for a minor issue with the teaching part. Most of your students piss their pants watching me walk down a hall, how many are reasonably going to show up to a class I teach?"
A knight moved between black king and white queen. "You'd be surprised. Underneath the fear lies an undercurrent of wonder. You are an unknown. The apprentice to a man Anthony Wright acknowledged as his equal. Anthony's classes are filled to capacity when he can be here, you may quickly find yourself with similar crowd-drawing potential."
Pawn takes pawn. "And what are you suggesting I teach? As you pointed out, I have a fairly broad range of specialties. Most of which I'm sure you have other people better suited to teach."
"I also said you have lived and breathed magic beyond what anybody else here has experienced. Share your experiences, your stories, your mistakes. Teach them what magic is like outside of the safe learning environment he have here. Teach them to love magic, but to beware it's dangers." Bishop takes pawn. "Check."
I studied the board, my next move clouded by the ideas of what I could teach.
Taking Jacob's advice, I picked a few classes covering topics I wasn't well versed in. A weekly class on communication with world spirits, taught by an old caller mage from South Dakota, Kenneth Mason. Conjuring objects with a French sorceress, Corinne Florette. Study of herbs and potions with Ryan Steele, who spends all day in a greenhouse I suspect he personally enchanted to provide a climate similar to that of his native southern California. And of course I attend Anthony Wright's class on applying the traditional principals of object enchantment to modern day technology. After the first lesson, I managed to replace the battery in my watch with a crystal that will last longer than I'm likely to live. Eventually, the students got over their fear of me. I was more than happy to make friends, I was here to learn, but I wasn't going to be a hermit while doing it. That way, madness lies. They didn't even take it personally when I tested myself against them, although I had to teach the handshake method to more than a few. Some younger wizards really never realize there's such a simple way to determine strength, and try to compare themselves by who can make the biggest explosions. I've ended up supervising more than a few of those detentions, making them listen to stories about some of my less successful experiments is a good way to instill caution in the kids, it turns out.
Eventually, I actually taught a class. My first lecture kept to the points Albright had mentioned, magic is scary, but magic is also amazing.
"Using magic feels good. It doesn't matter if you're casting a spell, waving a wand, throwing energy, reading a mind or the weather or the portents of the future, it's all magic, and it all feels amazing. Warm like sitting by the fire in winter, fulfilling like a hot meal after a day spent working outdoors. Sweeter and darker and richer than the best chocolate human hands have ever made. When magic flows through you, everything feels right and proper.
"Magic is about enforcing your will, changing aspects of the world because you desire change. Enforcing your desires over the natural order. Through the use of your Power. Not all wizards have the power to change the world through spells. Some of you can't cast spells, you lack the strength. That doesn't make you less magical, just not as strong. Of course there are ways to increase power, but I don't recommend them. They are all dangerous, most are highly immoral, and a fair few are illegal, either just by their own merits or by the magical provisions of international law.
"Yes, I've dealt for power with beings not of this world. Dealings sanctioned by my Master, before my tutelage ended. A few he never found out about, some more dangerous than I was ready for. I've learned the ways to trade, barter, and deal. I know how to react when a deal with an outer being goes wrong. And I've learned to defend myself from attacks from those begins who aren't willing to deal. I've learned that there are times when you have to run. If you're going to deal with beings from the Outer Reaches, you have to know when to fight, when to run, and when to deal in good faith.
"If you go into learning magic expecting to become powerful enough to solve all your problems, you will fail, and fail spectacularly. Magic is strength and power and change, and should only be used at the opportune moment. If you try to solve every problem that comes up with a spell, you won't realize when you'll need it most.
"But above all of those, magic is the right to play in the sandbox with the big kids, to wield the powers of creation and change without fear. If you come by magic honestly and use it honestly, you'll never have to be afraid of what it will do. My name is William Walker. Don't try to invoke my name. It will just end in tears."