Julius sighed, his arms crossed over his chest. “Okay, so…metal magic.”
He frowned to himself, staring at his students’ expectant faces. He, Sophia, Maria, and, for some reason, Sergio, were all currently sitting cross-legged on the floor of the Finja’s hull. His remaining students–Adrien, Sue, and Mask–were currently sparring up on deck while he tried to figure out how to actually explain magic to mages.
“Hm…” Shit, somehow this was harder than dealing with the entire damn temple.
Ultimately, the visit to Orindaco had ended pretty calmly. Julius and his students had exited the Water Temple with their newfound weapons and treasures, plus an electric saber left over from that one avarician, and said their thanks and goodbyes to Margrave, who saw them off with an actual smile as they left, which was a little worrying.
Julius almost felt bad for those dumbass mercenaries that were almost certainly going to get blackmailed to hell and back for bringing a magical artifact of immense power and importance into his sister’s city without bringing it up with her. She could be damn vicious when she wanted. But that didn’t exactly matter at the moment.
What mattered right now was trying not to look like a complete dumbass to his students when it came to magic.
Easier said than done, really. Even when he was learning metal magic, he didn’t pay the most attention.
“It basically…is the manipulation of metal, like other magic is for other such stuff. It’s mainly used by blacksmiths and other metal workers.”
“Didn’t you already tell us this?” Maria asked.
“…Yes, I was just making sure you knew. Anyways, aside from being able to control metals, it also can be used to strengthen oneself. It’s mainly supposed to be used with defense, but I found some other ways it can be useful.”
“Well, if you use metal body, it does make you heavier. So imagine what would happen if you dropped down on someone with it activated.”
“…I feel like you didn’t learn one that on purpose, Teach.”
“Maybe, maybe not. Either way, it works.”
“…Right, so, if you know how to use metal magic, why aren’t you conjuring metal spears to launch them at enemies?”
“Ah…um, well…for some reason metal can’t be manifested through magic like other kinds.” Shit, what was it Douglas said? Something about mass and physical properties…
“Um, are you sure about that, Mr. Goldforge?” Sophia inquired, actually raising an eyebrow at him. “Don’t metal casters use powers like that?”
“Uh…well, see…that’s the difference between…you know, manipulation and manifestation. That stuff. And I learned the first one.”
“…Right, so are you going to teach us stuff, or just tell us about it?” Maria asked again, a little more insistently.
“Hmph. Well, lucky for you two, I bought some metals for you to practice on when I fixed my sword.”
“What about me?” Sergio piped up, raising a hand.
“That depends. Are you really planning on learning how to learn magic from me when you’ve shown no interest in it before?”
He shrugged. “I could, if I wanted to.”
“…Hahhh…okay, fine. Just try to take this seriously.” Pulling some palm-sized chunks of copper out of his bag, Julius handed one to each of the mages, plus Sergio. “So, your training here is just to see if you can manipulate the copper into different shapes…oh and crushing it in your hands doesn’t count.”
“Did you crush it in your hands when you did this?”
“So, any actual questions?”
“You don’t really know much about teaching magic, huh?” Maria replied, slowly feeling the chunk of copper.
Julius frowned. “I wouldn’t say that. How did your mother teach you magic?”
She paused. “Hm…well, she would get all flowery and talk about how the energies of plant magic come from the Great Matron Chlora, mother to all vegetation in the world. There was a lot of sitting and meditating over our connection to her plane and all that.”
“Hm. So it’s mostly talking about gods and stuff?”
“I guess? The books I got in Ebkai were more about drawing on the ambient heat in the world around you and channeling your own natural power into the world. Ah, but the book from the Water Temple was more about how Mesic provides a base for magic and then the mage has to draw on their own power in their soul to use it, so…I’m not totally sure?”
“…So…talk about gods then?”
“Um, Mr. Goldforge?” Sophia spoke up as Maria shrugged. “I-It might just help if you do what feels right for you. Different teachers have different approaches, but they can all help.”
“And hey, worst case, we just don’t learn anything from you and you look like an idiot.”
“Sergio, shut up for a second.” Julius sighed, then sat up a little straighter, trying to remember what his smithing teacher had taught him back then. “Okay, so, metal magic. Metal is…one of the major elements of magic. Uh, secondary elements? Primaries are fire, water, air, earth…okay, then we have metal, but also plant, lightning…okay, the point is, metal is an element.”
“Sh. Now metal…metal as an element is one of the more solid ones. It’s very…firm, and har-Nope, cutting myself off right there.” He tried to ignore how Sergio and Maria both looked disappointed. “My point is, it’s a solid, stubborn material. When forged properly, it doesn’t move easily, but what we’re trying to do here is get it to move.”
“Like you keep saying, yeah.”
“And, that goes into another important quality that metal has. It might be solid, but it’s also malleable. When properly heated, any metal can become soft and easy to work with in forging, and metal magic essentially lets a smith bypass that completely. With the right techniques, any metal can be molded into whatever you want to use it for.”
Maria raised a hand. “So could you use heat magic to help with forging?”
“You could, yeah. I know some master smiths do study heat and cold magic to enhance the items they make, but before you ask, no, I don’t know how to do either of those.” Well, he knew a little Heat, but he wasn’t bringing that up. He didn’t want to look like even more of an idiot.
She lowered her hand.
“Also, don’t use fire magic to cheat and melt the copper.”
She frowned, slouching a little.
“Hm. So…solid, malleable, kind of stubborn…uh, the god of metal is Augant and he’s a child of the Dark Elder…okay, so, what you need to understand is that elements tend to reflect the gods that embody them in some way. Or it’s the other way around…uh, point is, try to think like a god.”
His students just stared at him in skeptical silence. Sergio raised an eyebrow, the complete-
Julius held up a finger. “No, wait, that actually does work. Okay, yeah, like I said, try to think like a god. That might sound arrogant, but it’s the sort of mentality you need to really be a mage. There’s a confidence in it, a sort of surety that you can see the world and make it bend to your will. Sometimes it can be in big ways, and sometimes it can be in subtle ways, but it’s all about being able to do things using your own power.
“Metal is practically perfect for that kind of thing too. Like I said, it’s all about taking what you have in front of you and molding it into whatever you want. It’s not like earth or ice, which are both ridiculously brittle. It’s malleable, and the copper is exactly that. All you need to do is feel it, hold it, and make it bend to you.”
“Oh, shit,” Sergio abruptly muttered, frowning down at the copper in his hands. His thumbs were pressed deep into the surface of the chunk. “…So I think I got it.”
Holy shit that actually worked.
“Oh wow, it actually worked,” Maria muttered, before beaming. “Congrats Serge!”
“Uh, thanks? Huh. I didn’t think Teach’s shitty speech would actually do something.” Hey.
“I don’t think it was that bad,” Sophia mumbled, slowly rolling her piece of copper into a ball.
Well, at least someone appreciated him.
“Well that’s all I have for right now. So, just keep practicing for the rest of the trip. The more you practice the easier it gets, and I do have a couple ingots we could move to once you have this down.”
After he said that, Julius continued to watch over his three students as they tried to manipulate metal. Surprisingly, despite being quite skilled normally, Maria seemed to have the most difficulty in shaping the copper, much to her chagrin.
Although, she still seemed really confident when the session came to an end. Afterwards, Julius tried instructing them for a while longer, had dinner with his students and the rest of the crew, and prepared to turn in for the night. Even if it was still early at that point, he couldn’t do much.
The crew wouldn’t let him practice with the lightning saber because of their superstitions, and the inside of the ship was too small for his broadsword, or sparring in general. So, even if he would prefer to use at least some of the night hours to get more training in, it was best to just rest.
Which is what he thought up until he opened his eyes in a pure white room. He suddenly found himself sitting in a high-backed armchair, a table in front of him and a throne across it. Of course, the furniture wasn’t nearly as important as who was actually sitting in the throne.
“Welcome, Julius Goldforge. I am glad you’ve finally arrived.” Smirking at him, Claire Valondrac sat in her full regalia, strength and confidence oozing off her. The hood of her decorated robe was down, showing her gorgeous face.
Tensing up, Julius reached behind him to grab his sword, only to notice that it was missing.
“No need to worry, Goldforge, this is just another dream. Albeit one I’ve willingly brought you into.”
“…And why did you do that?”
“Now now, no need to rush. I can get to that in due time. But for now, how about a game of chess?” She waved a hand in front of her and a chessboard formed on the table. “We will be here for some time, so best to have some fun, no?”
Staring down at the chessboard, Julius remained silent, before he stared at Valondrac directly in the eyes and answered with the utmost seriousness.
“I don’t know how to play this.”
“I don’t know how to play chess.”
“Cause I’m not a noble or an outworlder.”
“Aren’t you a former hero?? Wouldn’t saving the world make you a de facto noble?”
“Well, I got plenty of marriage offers from nobles. But I was busy with other stuff.” Training to be a blacksmith takes time after, all.
“…” Remaining quiet, Claire stared down at the table, her eye twitching as her body started to shake.
“GAAAH! WHY COULDN’T YOU HAVE TAKEN THE TIME TO LEARN CHESS!?” Valondrac smashed her hands on the table, the chess pieces jumping into the air for a moment until they landed with a clatter. “I HAD AN ENTIRE THING PLANNED!”
“You should be! Ah, no, that’s not fair of me, but, agh, damn it!” She growled, pushing her gloved hands through her hair. “How do you not know how to play chess?!”
“…I just said-”
“I heard you! I just don’t get it! It’s really damn simple!”
“Well, we are from different continents.”
Valondrac blinked. “Right. We are. I…didn’t think of that. Fine, I can work with this. What kind of games do you know?”
“Uh…have you ever played mahjong?”
“…I have no idea what the fuck that is.”
Julius explained mahjong.
“…Fuck you, that’s not real.”
Julius snorted, grinning. “It is.”
“It is not, and I seriously think you just made it up on the spot to fuck with me. Name something else.”
“Never heard of it, doubt it’s real, next.”
“Heh, okay, how about blackjack? It’s simple, first to twenty-one wins.”
“I’m already in my thirties.”
“Pf–W-Was that a joke?”
She shrugged, a ghost of a smile flickering across her serious expression. “No. Name something else.”
“How about cheat?”
“What? Is that a thing, or are you asking me if it’s fine to cheat?”
“No no, it’s a card game called cheat.”
“Why would you name a card game that?”
“Because it’s about deception and bluffing. You play the cards face down and you can lie about them. Oh, you might know it as ‘bullshit’?”
“…See, that one also sounds like you’re fucking with me, but you actually have rules for it, so…no, name another one.”
“Uh…okay, what about daifugo? Crazy eights? Balut? Paskahousu? Scorpion? Uno?”
“…You’re just saying words now.”
He sighed, unable to hide his own smile. “Okay, why don’t you name something then?”
“Hrm…have you ever heard of sternhalma?”
“I don’t know what that word means.”
“Hrm. Outworlders call it…’chinny’s checkers’?”
“Oh, you mean hopping checkers.”
“The one with the little balls?”
“…Don’t…Don’t call it that.” She huffed, crossing her arms over her chest. “Hm…the only other one I can think of is strip poker.”
She sighed. “Guess it was too much to ask that you’d know that one-”
“No, no, I know what poker is. Why specifically strip poker?”
“…Are there other versions?”
“I…yes. Of course. Versions where you don’t play for clothes. Like, playing for money.”
“Gold-Huh? No, that’s just…okay, so you know how to play poker, right?”
“Sure.” She flicked a hand, five cards manifesting in her hand. “You draw your cards, make a bet, switch some cards, and then see if what you have is better than the other person.”
“Yeah, that’s…uh, what’s with those cards?”
Valondrac blinked, glancing at them. “What? They’re four aces and a queen. What, do you have different cards?”
“No, but what’s with the symbols?”
“These are normal symbols.”
“No they’re not. I can’t even tell what the black ones are supposed to be, and what’s with the heart?”
She frowned. “You’re completely wrong, but fine, what card suits do you people use?”
“Uh, the normal ones? Wands, cups, coins, and swords.”
“…” Valondrac narrowed her eyes at him. “…I’m teaching you how to play chess now.” She waved her hand again and the cards vanished while the chess pieces rearranged themselves back into what he assumed were their proper positions.
“…I mean, I could’ve gotten over the weird card suits-”
“They’re not weird, you’re weird and shut up.”
“Okay, fine. I’ll just-”
“What are you doing?”
Julius paused mid-reach. “Uh…I was going to move one of the things.”
“White goes first, red goes second.”
“Because the conqueror attacks first, then the warrior retaliates,” she stated, picking up one of the little round-topped ones and moving it forward two spaces.
“…Okay then.” He mimicked her move.
“Ahaha, your inexperience shows itself, Goldforge~.”
“…So can we talk like actual adults now, or is this just a thing to prove you’re smarter than me?”
“Oh please, like I need to play-Wait no, don’t move that one.”
“Don’t move the pawns on the far sides in the first moves, you’ll lose almost immediately.”
“…Okay?” He moved one of the middle ones instead. “So, now that we’re doing this game thing, what do you actually want from me here?”
“Oh, a great many things, Goldforge. And I’m sure I can convince you-”
She blinked, pausing mid-move. “What?”
“…Just…so, are pieces allowed to jump over each other?”
She stared at him for a moment, then sighed. “No, only the knights are. These horse ones.”
“Right. Okay, continue.”
“…Ahem. Now, I have a number of questions for you-NO!”
He stiffened, pausing like she did. “What? Was that wrong?”
“YES! You can’t just move it right over-Knights move in an L shape!”
“Because that’s the rules for how they move! It’s-Imagine a horse leaping around an enemy so its rider can stab at them.”
“…So, I should move it-”
“Two spaces forward, one space to the left or right.”
“Oh my gods, you don’t even know how most of these move.”
“Didn’t I say that earlier? I have no idea how chess works.”
Her eye twitched again before she let out a deep breath. “Fine. Fine! I’m going to teach you how to play chess.”
“I mean, we could just talk-”
“No, shut up, we’re doing this now.”
And so, Claire Valondrac, Demon Lord of the Dark Lands, taught Julius how to play chess.
“This is the queen, the de facto strongest piece on the board. It can move in any direction vertically, horizontally, or diagonally, but never over any pieces, you got that?”
“Yeah, got it. So what does that make this one?” Picking up the piece next to the queen, Julius looked it over.
“That is the king, one of the weakest but most imp-why did you break it?!”
“…Personal issues.” Putting the piece back on the board, Julius tried to fit the two halves back together.
“Look. Just.” Valondrac waved her hand and the piece reformed. “Knocking over, or, in your case, breaking that piece is saying you surrender the battle.”
“Huh? Why’s that?”
“Because in this game, the king is in charge and without it, no one leads the troops.”
“…But there’s a queen. And aren’t there usually generals that lead armies?”
“Well, yes. But it’s just supposed to be a game. A very, very, simplistic game of war. You shouldn’t assume it lines up completely to reality.”
“…I see. So what’s this piece?”
“That’s a rook.”
“…It can take money?”
“Well, rooking someone is stealing their money, right?”
Valondrac’s face went completely blank as she stared at Julius. Silently raising a hand, she smacked the board and pieces off the table.
“…I guess we aren’t playing.”
“Look. I’m just going to cut to the chase. Why are you taking temple cores?” Ah. Right. That.
“Don’t lie to me. My general already reported to me that you took the fire temple’s core.”
“She lied,” he lied.
“You don’t really think I’d believe that so easily. The rest of your group let it slip, from what I heard.” Sounding somewhat irritated, Valondrac leaned back against her chair. “I’ll cut to the chase. We both want the cores. Give them to me, and I’ll let you and your group live.”
Julius frowned. “Even if I did have them, which I don’t because I’m not stealing them from the temples, it was a one time thing, I wouldn’t just hand them to you. Especially since you just threatened my students.”
“I will admit, I didn’t think you would hand them over from the start,” she continued, apparently ignoring him, “But this won’t be the last time we meet like this. And since you ruined my plans here, I’ll have to end this one early. Try to at least learn how to play chess while you’re gone.” Valondrac leaned over the table, placed a hand on his chest and shoved him backwards.
Landing on the floor, Julius immediately sat up and looked around. He was back in the hull of the Finja.
He rubbed the back of his sore head. Why did getting pushed over in a dream mean he had to hit the floor out here? How was that fair?
He sighed and started to mumble to himself. “Should I have told her about Arancoda? Would that have helped? ‘Hey, I traded the Fire Core to some hot dragon lady because I didn’t feel like fighting her, I have no idea what she actually wants to use it for, and also we had sex!’ Yeah, brilliant, that will totally go great.”
He grimaced, then glanced down at his lap. “…Really? Right now?” Apparently so. “…Well great. That’s going to make it harder to sleep…”
Julius sighed again, then just flopped back onto the floor.
…Valondrac was still really pretty.
That really didn’t help.