Frixis stared at Neera as if she'd just confessed to a crime. His fingers idly touched the beads braided into his magnificent green beard. He was the hairiest centaur anyone in the High Forest had ever seen. It was impossible to see where his beard ended and his chest hair began. He had never approved of Neera's sense of whimsy nor her peculiar approach to magic.
Centaurs were not known for their skills at arcane magic. Through relentless discipline, Frixis had achieved such skill that the elves of Highbough made him the instructor for their magic school. When Neera had first applied, she impressed the centaur by demonstrating great natural potential, but none of his discipline. She had only disappointed him ever since.
Neera didn't see magic the way Frixis did. She understood the mechanical aspects of casting a spell-the words to speak, the gestures to make, even the physical materials (nasty as some were) necessary to call the magic from its source-but she felt deep in her being that much of the rigmarole was unnecessary. Studying all of the theory and history of magic was like reading a book to learn how to dance. The way Neera saw it, either you could dance or you couldn't. Likewise, either you were a mage or you weren't, and no amount of studying would change that.
Still peering at Neera, Frixis said, "Which of you wishes to demonstrate your new spell for the class?"
Neera wished she had prepared an invisibility spell to vanish from sight, but the centaur kept staring straight at her. Fortunately, to either side of Neera, her friends threw up their hands.
Pollae and Binster were always the first to volunteer, and both were always prepared. Neera was sure the gnome had gotten that seam on the tip of his long nose by sticking it too deep into his books. "Very well," sighed Frixis. "Pollae first."
Binster sighed his disappointment, which only encouraged Pollae. "Perhaps it would be nice to have a well-mannered gnome in class, for a change."
She faltered for an instant as she moved to gesture with the staff she had lost in the bet. It would be a lot harder to look down at Neera after that defeat. Pollae performed the gestures by hand, spoke the words, and with a glimmer appeared to transform into an exact duplicate of Binster. To complete the illusion, she mimicked his heavy sigh.
Laughter from the other students rewarded her effort.
Binster snorted. "That's nothing. I can do twice as well." With a two-handed gesture and a few arcane words whistling out of the gap between his front teeth, he caused his own image to shudder and divide into several duplicates. Each stepped away from him until four identical Binsters stood with their hands on hips, smug smiles returning Pollae's scowl. They said in unison, "Four! Four times more gnome!"
Again the other students laughed. Frixis nodded his approval. "Now, who will be next?"
Moth's wings perked up. "Those are just illusions," he said. With a few arcane words of his own, the pixie grew taller, his wings shrinking into his body as his flesh and clothing changed shape until they matched Binster's features exactly. "This is a real transformation."
"Very good, Moth," said Frixis. "Now, Neera-"
"I didn't know we were doing illusions," she complained. Fire and lightning were more her style, any form of energy she could evoke from the raw fount of magic.
Frixis stamped a hoof on the hard oak floor of the classroom. Amplified by the domed roof, the sound echoed off the nearest tree-houses. From the nearest buildings, elven laughter replied to the centaur's familiar gesture of impatience with a recalcitrant student.
"If I must," huffed Neera.
"Take cover, everybody!" cried Darvoth. "Neera's going to cast a spell!"