One of the cadets had reached over, almost grabbing her by the arm, but she swatted him away as she stalked off. The other cadet snickered slightly, and was rewarded with a smack from his compatriot.

“Well, that was bracing,” Phadre said. “Is it quite warm today? I’m rather flushed.”

“Quite disappointing,” the professor said, shaking his head. He made some signals to one of the kitchen staff, and led them to one of the tables in the corner.

“Forgive me, professor,” Delmin said, “but what exactly did she want? She was a science student in the girls’ school, right?”

“Once again you demonstrate your gifts of perception, Mister Sarren.”

They took their seats, and in moments one of the servers came over with a few loaves of bread, butter, mustard, cold sliced ham and lamb, olives, pickled onions, soft cheese, and cups of cider.

“That never happens,” Veranix said. Let alone the quality of the food seemed far better than usual, but the servers didn’t typically deliver directly to the tables.

“As I said, my presence would be beneficial,” Professor Alimen said. He leaned to the server. “Is there a soup?”

“Onion and wine.”

“Very nice, bring us each that.” The professor grinned. “Do not stand on ceremony, boys. I would imagine you’re all about to faint.”

That was all Veranix needed to hear, and he loaded up his plate with a generous helping.

“You dodged my question, sir,” Delmin said once he was eating.

“Indeed I did. You are remarkably astute today. That will serve you well on your history exam, I believe.”

Delmin frowned and took a few more bites.

“I understand how she feels, though, sir,” Phadre said. “I mean, I’m half a step away from a blind panic right now, and I’m getting quite a bit of support on my defense from you and these two here. If her discipline is leaving her in the cold . . .”

“Nothing of the sort, from what I understand,” Professor Alimen said testily. “One cannot be left in the cold if they insist on storming outside without a coat. Now I believe we owe it to ourselves to enjoy our meal, and perhaps give Mister Calbert a bit more brushing up on the period of the Shattered Kingdom. I’m sorry, Veranix, but I fear that is going to be your weak point in today’s exam.”

Soup arrived and they continued to eat, while Delmin quizzed Veranix on the different lineages of the various kingdoms that had formed when Druthal broke apart in the eighth century.

“And the kings of Acoria?” Delmin asked as he took the last piece of bread.

“That’s a trick question. Acoria didn’t have kings. They had elected presidors.”

“But who were they?” Delmin then sat up sharply, glancing around the room. “Vee. Again.”

“What?” Veranix asked, but the answer was readily apparent. Smoke came roiling straight out of the tile floor: thick as molasses and an unnatural purple. This wasn’t the same as in Almers the night before, no rotten, fetid stench. It was sickly sweet, in a familiar way, and nauseating. So nauseating that several other boys proceeded to retch.

Veranix felt his own stomach twist on him. Instinctively, he created a magic screen over his face, letting him breathe clear air. Professor Alimen must have had a similar instinct, as he was moving freely, going to some of the boys who were falling over. Veranix looked to Delmin and Phadre, who weren’t faring as well. Phadre had somehow formed a bright, shining dome over his whole head, and was stumbling toward the door. Delmin was floundering and retching. Veranix got to his friend and magicked a gust of fresh air over his face.

“Come on, Del,” Veranix said, putting the other boy’s arm over his shoulder. Delmin managed to move with him, but was barely able to keep his feet.

There were at least fifty more students in here, plus the kitchen staff, and he and Professor Alimen were the only ones in a condition to help them right now.

“Professor!” Veranix shouted. “We need to clear this out!”

Professor Alimen looked around, clearly flustered by not being able to help all the falling students. “The windows, Mister Calbert.”

The dining hall windows were large installations along the upper half of the wall. They only let illumination into the hall, not ventilation. As far as Veranix could tell, they weren’t designed to open.

Veranix’s first instinct was to simply blast and shatter the glass, but that might make the cure worse than the ailment. At the very least, he didn’t want the cost of the windows being put on his head.

Three large panes, fitted into metal frames. Veranix reached out with his magic, touching the edges of the glass. Letting the energy guide him, he pulled gently and popped one frame out in a whole piece. It was heavier than he expected, and the cost of carefully floating it out of the way while maintaining his breathing filter was almost more than he could bear at the same time.

“Now, Professor,” he said through gritted teeth.

Professor Alimen summoned a wave of numina so strong that even Veranix could feel it, and with a powerful release, blasted all the purple smoke out the open hole and sent it shooting up high above the building.

Veranix was wavering, about to drop when he felt his burden being lifted off of him. “I have it, Mister Calbert,” the professor was saying, his hand gently resting on Veranix’s shoulder. The glass lifted away and went back into place.

“Well done,” Professor Alimen said in a low whisper. The undertaking had taken a toll on him as well, that was clear. 

The Alchemy of Chaos