Artimeus watched the small group of apprentices closely, noting that some particularly inattentive students had to be nudged by their fellow classmates before they realized his presence. He huffed slightly in exasperation - he would evidently have to work with some of this group on their awareness of surroundings. Even those who were not powerful enough to sense fellow mages should have been perfectly capable of seeing his brightly-colored cloak under the oak tree. There were disadvantages to having a garnet as a focus stone, he reflected.

Artimeus halted in a particularly well-lit area within the courtyard and began to address the students. "Welcome to the Institute," he told them in his native tongue. His voice was slightly nasal and aristocratic, but reasonably pleasant. "My name is Magister Artimeus, and today, we will have a small demonstration." Artimeus had been watching his new students and, on many faces, he was greeted with blank incomprehension and, in some cases, outright fear. He sighed, vastly annoyed - it would seem that Frotriem was up to his old tricks again. Once again, he had neglected to distribute the translation amulets to the new students.

He turned, intending to send a message to the headmaster, when he registered movement out of the corner of his eye. Near the back of the group of students, a small, black-haired boy had pulled out a dirty quartz crystal and, as the student focused, it began to glow brightly. The boy reached out and grasped the hand of a small, red-headed boy who had begun to panic. He gently wrapped the other boy's hand around the crystal and spoke softly to him, the words lost in the murmuring from his other classmates.

Artimeus raised an eyebrow. How interesting, he thought. Here was a mage child who had already found a focus stone, and, most amazingly, despite his inexperience, had crafted his magic into a rough translation spell. Artimeus was also impressed that this child had used his skills to help another student. The red-headed boy gripped the glowing quartz like a kind of life-line and, after hearing the soft murmurs from the strange black-haired child, instantly calmed.

The boy seemed to register that he was being observed and he raised an almost challenging gaze in Artimeus' direction. He maintained eye contact for a moment before dropping his gaze briefly to one side - NOT in submission, Artimeus realized, but in thought. After a moment, the child raised his eyes and his gaze sharpened in intensity. Abruptly, Artimeus was aware of a thread of green power attempting to access his mind. No, this should NOT have been possible. Flabbergasted, but not threatened, Artimeus allowed the contact.

"Was this display truly necessary?" A rather irritated mind voice enquired. "This is not of my making." Artimeus assured the voice. Across the courtyard, the child raised one eyebrow, not bothering to voice the thought, but quite clearly asking "then who?" Artimeus made a sweeping, but vague gesture, indicating the castle behind him. "Our lord and master," he thought sardonically. As if on cue, a swirl of cardinal red power (a more gaudy red than his own) swept through the courtyard, depositing an amulet by each student.

As far as Artimeus was concerned, this was nothing more than a power showmanship, and he intended to see to it that this never happened again. He barely refrained from rolling his eyes and was amused to note that the child in communication with his mind made no such effort. Unable to resist, Artimeus gently probed back along the thread of the magic the boy wielded. The child raised that eyebrow again and allowed the assessment. Artimeus paused in thought for a moment.

This child showed remarkable control for one so young and, he reflected, he could bend a completely unsuitable focus stone to his will. Here, he felt a note of surprise from the child. That green power of his was a complete mismatch to the lower-powered quartz he was currently utilizing. Artimeus registered dawning comprehension from the child and felt him briefly examine his magic and garnet focus stone, correctly drawing the connection between the properties and color of each.

The raven-haired boy seemed to understand that Artimeus needed to focus on the rest of the class and dropped his mental connection without prompting. Artimeus quickly helped the other students with their translation amulets, pleased to see that many of them were able to figure out their significance on their own. The panic among his new students began to die down as each in turn grasped his or her translation amulet, each powered by the headmaster's garish red power, and began to speak to his or her nearby classmates. He was amused to see that the small raven-haired boy had disdained the scarlet amulet hovering in front of him entirely and was instead using his imperfect quartz crystal to communicate with his classmates.

At last, Artimeus was ready to continue. He shot a reproving glare in the direction of the headmaster's office. So much time wasted so that oaf could feel more powerful. He allowed himself one more irritated sigh and then forced himself to focus. When he next spoke, everyone in the class of new students understood each word. In gripping the translation amulets, all languages, written or spoken, would automatically be translated into the student's native tongue.

"You will each be passive participants in the execution of a large-scale spell. We will be moving this boulder," he indicated a rock the size of a house resting against the wall on one side of the courtyard. "This will introduce you to the feeling of having your magic tethered to a spell matrix without taxing you too badly, since your other classmates will also be lending their magic. Please pay attention to everything you see, sense, and feel and...try not to fight the matrix weaver," he added drily. Here, he indicated a slightly nervous Katia. He threw an encouraging glance at Katia, long a favorite student of his. He knew she was ready for this and nodded at her, conveying his conviction through brief eye contact.

Katia took a deep breath, gathering herself, and then nodded in return. For the first time today, she turned her attention to the plinth in the center of the courtyard, atop which a large specimen of her preferred focus stone (yellow topaz) rested. She passed into a shallow trance, keying her awareness into the focus crystal. Katia began by forming the idea of the spell she wished to create. There, in her minds eye, the skeletal template of the great levitation spell began to form in odd whorls and geometric shapes. Glassy eyed, her vision overlaid with the sepia tones of the focus stone, the matrix weaver nodded distantly. From a distance, Katia registered her mentor's mind voice instructing her to connect the first child to the spell matrix she was weaving.

Gently, she reached out and grasped a purple thread of power. She felt the child's surprise and paused briefly to send a reassuring thought in that direction. Deftly, she wove the child's power string into the weft of the spell matrix. One by one, each child's unique power signature was woven into the matrix and the spell slowly began to take tangible form.

Eleven mage signatures in, the monitor felt a massive shift in the balance. She stiffened in shock. No, that wasn't possible, she reasoned with herself. No one child could possibly be that powerful. He or she would have had to have been an alpha level mage adept and there was no such thing. Not even the founder himself had that much raw power. Suspecting an issue with her spell matrix itself, she quickly inspected the weave and found...nothing.

Going deeper into her trance, Katia tried to isolate that single thread of power. There! Pulsing emerald green...leading back to the hands of the small black-haired boy on the far right of the group. In wonder, the tranced monitor deepened her mage sight and saw an aura shining like a supernova. Jerking back, the significance of this discovery came crashing into her. She HAD to stop this practical NOW. Though she had failed to connect the remaining 8 children to the spell, it would not matter. If the power thread of that raven-haired child was connected to her spell matrix when the magister spoke the trigger word, the spell would be massively overpowered.

Desperate, she began to rise up out of her trance..but she was FAR too late. "Attollo!" Cried the magister. Abruptly, the focus stone glowed like the heart of the sun. Katia screamed in agony as her mage sight overloaded. Oh God. Her HEAD. It was going to burst. She slapped herself harshly across the face, wrenching herself the rest of the way out of her trance. She shook her head, registering screaming. Everyone was looking upward. The massive boulder they had been levitating had hurtled to an incredible height, hovered briefly at the pinnacle of its climb, and began to plummet toward the castle. She met the magister's eyes in a shared moment of terror. They both knew that there was no stopping this disaster. With the height, momentum, and weight of that boulder, their school was about to become a crater on the mountainside.

Knowing it was futile, Katia reached for the comforting amber of her own power, determined to go down fighting. She aimed her power directly at the center of the falling mountain of rock, but she couldn't even slow its meteoric descent. Dimly, she registered the reddish tint of the magister's power erecting an impressive shield that, despite its power, would be just about as useful as tissue paper.

Katia continued to strain and, though considered to be a powerful beta-rank mage in her own right, was rapidly losing strength. Abruptly, she felt her magic constrained by a much more powerful mage than she. Instinctively, she began to struggle, but an emerald-tinted mind voice quickly broke in, telling her to wait. Forcefully, her mage sight was brought to bear on the rapidly approaching boulder and the emerald thread of power swiftly showed her a small flaw on the right-hand side of the stone, a fissure that ran all the way through the heart of the rock. "We must both aim here," the mind voice instructed and Katia nodded. Together, her amber-tinted power and the blazing hot emerald power went hurtling into the heart of the stone.

Katia cried out from the effort, but, despite her best attempts, could not fracture the stone. To her horror, her power began to flicker weakly and the thread of her magic snapped as her power reserves emptied. She snapped back to full awareness as her knees hit the cobblestones of the courtyard. She wanted to help, but had nothing left to give.

She registered a desperate scream of effort - a young male voice, breaking under the strain. She glanced up and, with blurry vision, saw the child slap both hands onto the amber focus stone. Briefly, the focus stone glowed impossibly bright...then it exploded with concussive force, the blast throwing the child forcefully into the castle wall. Directly overhead, the boulder splintered into a thousand pieces. A thunderous rain of small debris struck the garnet shield and bounced off. The shield flickered a couple of times and then died. There were a few last clatters of stone striking the castle and, further off, breaking glass. Then there was silence.

For several heartbeats, everyone stood there, frozen, unable to believe they were still alive and unharmed. Then Artimeus swore vituperatively and fairly ran to the edge of the courtyard, where a small boy lay absolutely still, a trickle of blood running from beneath his ebony hair. The magister pressed trembling fingers beneath the boy's jaw and located a weak pulse.

He sighed in relief and also dimly registered the mind of the headmaster attempting to contact his own - he brushed the attempt off in the same annoyed manner as one would swat a fly. Though exhausted from generating his earlier wide-field shield, the magister sent a trickle of deep red power power into the boy. He quickly discovered, and healed, a rather severe concussion and he could feel himself growing light-headed with the effort.

He forced himself to hang on. He HAD to check the boy's magic reserves. Spell shock could kill a sorcerer just as quickly as any physical damage could and a child tended not to have much in the way of reserve power. He was certain that after such a display of power the child would need a massive infusion of magic - and soon. Trancing himself further he used his mage sight and gasped. He found himself staring into a pure emerald brilliance glowing like a star and pulsing in time with the child's now steady heartbeat. Far from being drained, the child's magic was still surging through him like a tsunami. The magister blinked in awe. Even after a large-scale working, this small child crumpled at his feet had more power than any of his teachers...combined.

For this child to have done what he had just done, and with an incompatible focus stone, he must be an alpha-level mage adept - a level previously thought to have been theoretical only. He shook his head in wonder and gave a start as he realized that he was being assessed in turn by a pair of intelligent blue eyes. He was not quite able to hide his awe. The boy seemed discomfited by his involuntary response and quickly raised his eyes to survey the watchers in the courtyard as well. He could hardly have failed to miss the slight spark of fear exhibited by many of the watchers. The boy's gaze saddened and then closed over, his expressive face going blank.

At last, a shaken Artimeus gathered himself enough to say "I think that we need to get you to the infirmary. We need to be sure that I healed that head wound of yours correctly." He sighed, partially in irritation, "And then, we should see the headmaster." He glanced at Katia, who was just regaining her feet. "Katia," he said, "if you feel up to it, I would appreciate it if you would meet us in the headmaster's office in half an hour." Katia quickly nodded and, still slightly unsteady, made her way out of the courtyard.

Artimeus offered the raven-haired boy a hand, which, after a short pause, he accepted. He pulled the boy to his feet, watching to be sure he did not sway. When he was sure the child would not fall, he turned briefly to the other students in the courtyard. "Was anyone else hurt?" He asked. Negative head shakes from each child in the courtyard answered his query and, out of the corner of one eye, he registered as the raven-haired child's shoulders dropped slightly in relief.

Artimeus gently touched one shoulder and the child started slightly. Giving him a somewhat apologetic glance, the magister said "Let's go, Mr..." he paused, realizing for the first time that he did not know the child's name. A soft, but clear voice answered him, "Van Ghoul. Vincent Van Ghoul." "Well, Mr. Van Ghoul, let's get you checked out." The child nodded once and, together, they swept from the courtyard, leaving the rest of the class chattering excitedly amongst themselves.