* Leviton *
“We need to hurry,” Wendy said as she walked purposefully down the crowded streets of Leviton. The hem of her sleeveless yellow dress fluttered as she quickened her pace. There was a panicked tone in her voice that Henry, even in his half-drowsy state, could easily recognize.
“What’s the rush?” he asked with a yawn. He’d only woken up less than an hour ago and was still acclimating himself to a new day and his new surroundings. The previous day had been so exhausting that he slept much later than usual.
“Professor Landerpool set aside his whole day for you, and we’re late.”
Henry felt a lurch in his stomach that had nothing to do with the muffin he wolfed down for breakfast only minutes prior to leaving the manor. “The whole day? Late? Are we in trouble?”
“Well, when I couldn’t get you up earlier, I ended up contacting the school ahead of time to tell Professor Landerpool we’d be late, but still…”
Her voice trailed off, but Henry understood. Someone as famous and well respected as Professor Landerpool obviously had a lot of demands on his time. He knew that Lawrence must have called in a favor to arrange this private training. Henry felt a bit of the panic that had swept over him when he first arrived on Mendala. Everyone was counting on him to master quickening in just two days, but what if he couldn’t? What if he just wasn’t good enough?
“Henry?” Wendy came to a halt. “Did you hear me?”
He almost collided into her. “Huh? What?”
Wendy gave him a puzzled look but then started off again, this time a bit slower so Henry could walk next to her. “I said: Mr. Stokenshire won’t be back until dinner, so you’ll still have a good eight hours with Professor Landerpool.” she assured.
“Oh, right.” Henry tugged nervously at the silk-like shirt he was wearing.
Wendy noticed his fidgeting. “Are the clothes Mr. Stokenshire left for you okay?”
“Huh?” Henry said again before realizing what she’d asked. He looked down at the shirt as if examining it for problems. It was a thin, blue, short-sleeved tunic with intricate, circular, multicolored patterns throughout. “Yeah, everything’s fine. I didn’t really need new shoes, but these are really comfortable.” He sighed, still deep in thought.
Wendy frowned. “Are you okay?”
“Uh huh.” Henry nodded half-heartedly. His brain was still buzzing with nervous energy, so he finally decided to broach the topic that had been weighing on him. “So, this Professor Landerpool, everyone says he’s the best,” he started casually.
“He is the best. I really hope I get to learn from him when I start school,” Wendy added excitedly.
“Start? I thought you were already a quickener.”
Wendy let out another chuckle. “I’m only sixteen. I haven’t even started masters school.”
Henry felt his stomach lurch again. “Wait but we’re the same age. Are you saying people don’t usually learn this young?”
“Most people go to masters school around seventeen or eighteen, and it takes at least three years to become a fully qualified quickener, usually longer though.”
Henry came to a dead stop, panic now evident in his eyes. “Well then how am I supposed to learn in two days?” His voice was becoming shrill.
Wendy put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “Henry, don’t worry. It’s not like you have to master it in two days. You’ll just learn enough so you can use your staff one good time to get your friends back, that’s all. You’ve already quickened once, that’s more than me, and through a rift too,” she added, admiration clear in her voice. “You’ll be fine. Professor Landerpool will sort you out, don’t worry.”
Henry took a steadying breath and they started walking again. The crowd was much thicker as they neared the heart of the city. They’d taken an intracity translift to get them near the school, but they still had to walk a fair distance to reach it. Wendy took Henry’s hand, so they wouldn’t get separated, and pulled him along.
“So, you have to wait until you’re seventeen to start school?” Henry asked, trying to keep his mind off his own pending lesson.
Wendy had to turn to talk to him. “To qualify for masters school, you have to have two years of advanced mentus education or two years mentus based work experience and most people can’t do either until they’re fifteen; that’s when you finish standard mentus school. To be honest though, I wouldn’t even be able to go if it wasn’t for Mr. Stokenshire.”
“It’s really expensive. Mr. Stokenshire is going to pay for me to go to masters school in exchange for being his assistant for two years, which also serves as the work experience I need to qualify. I’ve got one more year to go, then after I start school, I’ll keep working for him until I graduate. It’s great; not only do I get to learn at one of the best masters schools, but learning about staffs from a quaver like Mr. Stokenshire is going to give me a real advantage. He’s even letting me stay in his manor.”
Henry was once again reminded of Calvin Eastman who was also very generous with his wealth and liked to give people opportunities. “Wow, that’s really nice of him.”
“Yes, he’s a great man, but all the Stokenshires are really philanthropic. I got lucky that he picked me to come work for him. There were like a hundred applicants, I think. Oh, there it is.” Wendy pointed to a large building that stood at the intersection of the street they were walking on and another equally large and busy street. It was four stories high and made of highly polished quartz rock. On the front was a large white sign with black lettering that read “Wincraft Masters School est. 2914 TS.”
Wendy tugged a bit harder as she quickened her pace to the school building. “You’re so lucky; I still have three months before I start. Haven’t even been inside yet.”
“Well, you’re welcome to hang out and watch me botch this whole quickening thing,” Henry offered, still on edge about what he was about to undertake.
Wendy didn’t catch the sarcasm in his voice. “Well, I’m supposed to be doing inventory at the shop today, but maybe just for a couple of hours.” She turned and smiled at him, her green eyes sparkling with excitement. She was clearly more eager to watch a real quickening lesson than Henry was to participate in one.
Henry shrugged indifferently. He hadn’t meant the invitation but didn’t care if she joined. Having an audience wouldn’t make it better or worse. “Sure, if you want.”
“Don’t worry,” Wendy reiterated as they reached the double doors of the Wincraft building, “you’ll be fine. I’ll cheer you on.”
Henry actually smiled at this.
“There you are,” came a familiar voice from Henry’s left just as they were about to enter. He turned and saw Sharanel walking toward them. “I’ve been waiting for you for over an hour.”
Wendy went pale. “Chief Quicksilver?”
“What are you doing here?” Henry asked.
“I came to help, of course,” Sharanel said pointedly. “I thought you’d be training by now, but when I got here, they said you hadn’t arrived yet,” she added in an admonishing tone. “It’s already mid-morning. Where have you been?”
“Henry was really exhausted,” Wendy explained, a hint of nervousness in her voice. “I tried to wake him earlier, but I couldn’t. So, I contacted the school, and Professor Landerpool sent word that we could start later. I figured it was better that he be well rested.”
Sharanel felt a stab of annoyance. She knew the quaver assistant meant well, but she was as much of a rube as Henry. It was clear to her that neither of them were taking the situation as seriously as they should.
Still, she didn’t want to start another argument with Henry, so she let out a calming breath and smiled. “Well, now that you’re all rested up, we can get to work.”
Henry still looked confused. “I didn’t even think you were coming. I thought Landerpool was going to be teaching me?”
“He will, but I figured you could use some extra help. I contacted the professor this morning, and he agreed. Listen, learning quickening is a heavy undertaking. If you want to get your friends back, you’ll need all the help you can get.”
“She’s right,” Wendy seemed eager to agree. “Chief Quicksilver is a prodigy. She’s the youngest fully qualified quickener in history; she can definitely help you.”
Henry wasn’t sure if he really wanted Sharanel to help him train but felt outnumbered. “Okay, fine, I guess.” He turned to face Wendy. “Did you still want to come and watch for a bit?”
Wendy gave a nervous glance to Sharanel who looked impatient to get started. “Uh, I better get to the shop. I want to make sure I have plenty of time to do inventory, but I’ll see you at dinner okay?” She gave him a brief hug and then hurried back down the road.
“I think you scared her off,” Henry said when Wendy was out of sight. “Everyone is so formal around you.”
“Well, sorry I chased off your little girlfriend,” Sharanel said in a teasing tone, “but it’s probably for the best that she’s not there to distract you.”
“She’s not my girlfriend!” Henry sputtered, his face reddening even as he said it.
Sharanel laughed. “Well, you’ve got a lot of work to do if you’re going to be even marginally proficient in under two days. That’s why I came back to help you; I want you to succeed, Henry. Your friends are counting on you, remember?” She pushed open one of the double doors. “We need to make the most of the time we have before Lawrence fixes your staff; come on.”
Henry knew she was right; he was in over his head and his friends needed him. Though he didn’t get off to the best start with Sharanel, it was clear she was serious about helping him and everyone he encountered seemed to respect “Chief Quicksilver.” Even though he was still nervous, he felt a bit bolstered knowing he had a quickener prodigy to help him through this, so he marshaled up his courage and followed her inside.
Henry had no idea how Mendalians learned quickening, but he half expected that he would be taken to a fake quartz cave reminiscent of the room he found in his basement. Instead, after walking down several long corridors filled with students, Sharanel led him to what seemed to be a normal classroom marked with a placard that read “Professor Reginald Landerpool.” Inside, there were five long tables that ran the length of the room, each with ten chairs that faced a large desk and a huge whiteboard filled with complex looking equations.
In front of the whiteboard was a fair-skinned, lanky man with thick, wild, white hair that stuck up and out in all directions. He paced, muttering to himself, his eyes closed. His blue robe was open, revealing a simple white button up shirt and black trousers. He was waving a black marker around as if he were just on the cusp of writing something on the board but each time he paused to do so, he would reconsider and start pacing again, still muttering.
“Professor Landerpool?” Sharanel called out tentatively as she shut the door.
The man looked up, clearly jarred from his thoughts. His pale blue eyes lit up when he saw her. “Sharanel Quicksilver!” he called in a raspy voice, as if this were the first time he’d used it all day. He walked quickly around the large wooden desk to greet them, arms wide. “How’s my favorite pupil.”
Sharanel beamed and the two hugged briefly before she said, “Sir, you’re not supposed to have favorites.”
“I’m a hundred and thirty-five years old, dear child. I can have whatever I want.” Landerpool chuckled.
Henry was shocked by this pronouncement. Landerpool’s white hair was the only physical indicator that he was significantly older. Beyond this, he looked to be, at most, in his mid-fifties. It wasn’t just his lack of significant wrinkles or other physical signs of advanced age. He was also energetic and had the air of a man who was very sharp and still had many good years ahead.
“Lawrence told me about Thomas,” Landerpool continued, his tone more serious now. “I was shocked to say the least. I’m so sorry; it had to be hard for you to witness.”
Sharanel nodded solemnly. “I still can’t believe he’s gone. It’s just been so surreal. Sir, after things settle, I really want to do something for him: a memorial maybe?”
“I completely understand.” Landerpool nodded in agreement. “We must honor his memory, but I agree we should wait until after this is over. From what you told me, time is of the essence.” He finally noticed Henry standing behind her. “Ah, this must be the young demi.”
Henry was about to reach out to shake his hand when he was hit with the new word. “The young what?”
“That’s Landerpool speak,” Sharanel explained. “He’s talking about your dimensional sense. Sir, this is Henry Simmons the, uh, off-worlder.”
Henry actually did shake hands this time and he noted Landerpool’s strong grip. “It’s nice to meet you, I’ve heard a lot about you. Everyone says you can help me figure out this quickening thing.”
“Well, we’ll see what we can do, now won’t we,” Landerpool said, “but before we jump into that, I want to ask you something, Henry: how’s your mentus?” He gestured to a chair as he leaned against a table to face them, arms crossed.
“My what?” Henry asked as he took a seat.
“That’s what I thought,” Landerpool gave Sharanel a knowing look. “No wonder he’s been having trouble. Sharanel, I’m surprised at you. Did you never think that an off-worlder who hasn’t even heard of quickening, probably knows nothing of mentus or the mentant realm?”
“Well, it all happened so fast, I guess I forgot,” Sharanel admitted sheepishly. Mentus was so second nature to her that even though she knew the teens had dormant adimuses when they met, she still forgot that Henry was a novice to not just quickening but all adimus based skills.
Landerpool made a tutting noise, but there was no real admonishment in his voice. “I daresay you forgot, and yet this tyro was able to quicken through a rift on his first time ever using his staff.” He leaned forward as if to examine Henry. “You, my dear boy, are a natural, a prodigy just like little miss blow-up-my-lab here,” he said jerking his head at a blushing Sharanel.
“It was just the one time! Am I ever going to live that down?” Sharanel squeaked.
Henry laughed. It was odd seeing “Chief Quicksilver” reduced to a sputtering schoolgirl under the admonishment of her mentor. He didn’t feel nearly as much tension as before.
“I don’t feel like a prodigy. I broke my staff trying to get my friends back and I still have no idea how it works,” Henry admitted.
“But Professor Landerpool’s right,” Sharanel said. “When we were in the cave, you actually resisted me mentantly. I think it came naturally to you more than the others. Maybe it’s your dimensional sense?”
“That very well could play a part in it,” Landerpool agreed. “Henry, let’s do an experiment. Most of the school is unshielded. Close your eyes and reach out with your mind; let’s see how far you get.”
Henry did as he was told. Closing his eyes, he tried to reach out with his mind. Incredibly, it was easier than he thought it would be. Fantasma had activated the adimus of his brain when they first met, but he’d never tried to use any of the abilities that it was supposed to control. Now, without the stress of an impending cave-in, he found that he was actually able to see the mental image of Landerpool in front of him. He couldn’t see the man as he saw him with his eyes open, it was almost like he saw a glowing silhouette that distinctly resembled the older man.
“I think it’s working,” Henry said before he started to describe everything he was seeing.
Landerpool had a blue aura about him, it fluctuated and flickered as if it were pulsing energy. Turning, he saw a similar, albeit more potent, blue aura around Sharanel. Curious he looked down at his own hands and was shocked to find that he couldn’t see himself at all. Undeterred, he started to explore, his mind moving out of the room and down the bustling hall beyond. These people were strangers to him. He had no idea who they were: just walking auras of various shades of blue and occasionally purple. He saw blue streaks of energy race around the halls above him, like fireflies. He realized, instinctively, that they were the embodiment of mentus energy, the afterimages of something done in this realm, the mentant realm.
As Henry’s mind navigated to the front entrance, he met a barrier. He could see it in his mind’s eye, a shimmering wall of purple that impeded his vision beyond the building. When he tried to push past, he was rebuffed, feeling a twinge in his mind as if someone had hit him hard in the side of the head.
Henry opened his eyes and felt the physical world rush back to him. “Whoa, that was amazing. I didn’t even know I could do that.”
Landerpool smiled. “The mentant realm comes naturally, though we typically spend years learning how to read everything within it properly. Of course, we don’t have that kind of time now. Our goal is to focus only on what will be helpful to you in using your staff.”
Henry nodded, “I’m ready,” and saying it, he felt he really was. His fear was all but forgotten. He was determined to learn everything he needed to know to become a quickener and get his friends back. He wouldn’t let them down.