"The thing about magic, David," Veronica said gently. "Is that it is as much an art as a science. You can know every technicality in the book, but it is always those who think creatively that live another day."
Dave decided he was downright elated to have Veronica on the team, and thought she should stay on full time.
They sat in the center of the circle together in Dave's improvised physics lab/magic training ground, the lines and sigils glowing a faint gold. The only other light came from a candle off to the side, where Balthazar was peering over old books, and the thousands upon thousands of miniscule werelights that drifted lazily above them. It was like a sky full of stars. Veronica moved her hand idly, and the lights moved, so tiny and delicate that even the slightest shift in the air currents of the cavern made them change course.
Much more calming than Balthazar's earlier lesson, which had involved lobbing fireballs at the college student with alarming speed. The idea then had been to create vacuums faster, since it was no big thing to make fire, but creating vacuums took time. Time, Balthazar said grimly, that a sorcerer often did not have.
"If you're even a moment off time, you die." He'd said, arms crossed and feet shoulder width apart. "Do you want to die, Dave?"
"Not particularly…" The young man had answered, dreading the line of thought his teacher was following.
"Great. Then let's begin."
It was during that lesson that Dave had first realized how truly invaluable Veronica was. She'd been out getting coffee when the lesson had started, and when she'd returned… Well, Dave would have rather had water than coffee.
"Balthazar!" She'd gasped, nearly dropping the drinks. "What on earth do you think you're doing?"
The man (damn him) had looked up casually, his hand still faintly smoking from the volley he'd launched at his poor protégé.
"Teaching." He'd said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. Dave had collapsed and rolled on the ground, praying that the zipper of his jacket hadn't melted together.
"By assaulting your student?" She'd asked pointedly. Dave could have kissed her. On the cheek, obviously. Balthazar had had the gall to look offended.
"Learning on the job is the best way to learn, Veronica." The sorcerer had replied, again, as if it was painfully obvious. "This as is close to that as it gets. Unless you'd rather I hunt some Morganians with him and throw him in?"
"No." Dave had groaned, pawing at his jacket. "No, that's fine. Not necessary." The jacket had been officially made useless. It had been a great jacket…
"Have you taught him werelights?" Veronica had asked, putting the drinks on the table and her hands on her hips. That had tripped the old bastard up.
"Yes, Balthazar. Werelights."
Dave hadn't bothered getting up. In fact, he'd sat back and watched as his tough-as-a-tree-root master abruptly looked about as dangerous as a child caught with his hand in a cookie jar.
"I… Umm…" Balthazar hadn't been able to meet Veronica's eyes. "No. No, I haven't taught him that yet."
"You haven't taught him werelights," she'd said, sounding affectionately exasperated. "But you think it's necessary to throw fireballs at him?"
"He needs to learn how to create a vacuum!" Balthazar had protested. "How many times was I burned before I learned how to make them quickly? How many times had Horva-" He'd stopped, closing his jaws with a snap. It had been several months, but the subject of their former fellow apprentice was still a sore one. Veronica, however, pressed on.
"And how many times would any one of us have fallen to our deaths without a werelight?" She'd asked pointedly. Balthazar said nothing. "All I'm saying is that we're at peace for now. Surely there are other things that David can learn?"
"Fine," he'd snapped, clearly offended. "If you want to teach him, teach him!" And he'd stomped off, allowing Veronica to sigh and roll her eyes and begin her lesson on werelights.
He'd come back after she and Dave had created their room full of werelights, arms full of old documents of a mysterious origin. He'd eyed the lights in the air irritably before lighting a candle and sitting down with a huff. It had taken every scrap of self-control Dave possessed not to snicker.
"Creativity is key," Veronica continued, Dave listening raptly. "In a duel, a sorcerer can know every old trick, but a new trick is sure to work to their advantage. Of course, magic is not all fireballs and lightning bolts, as the werelights will attest."
"How far can magic go?" Dave asked, feeling a bit he had in his first day of physics class: eager, ready for anything. It made him a bit sheepish to think that he'd never reacted to Balthazar's lessons this way, but could the man really blame him?
"Theoretically? As far as one wishes it to." Veronica said. "However, certain people have certain… talents. Certain proclivities."
"Like Balthazar's proclivity for pyrotechnics?" Dave asked good-naturedly. From his little corner, Balthazar grumbled something about nightlights and ungrateful apprentices. The young student chuckled and flicked a few werelights over to his grizzled friend. The sorcerer swatted them away like flies.
"Now boys," Veronica sighed. She looked at Dave pointedly. "Yes, Balthazar does have a predisposition for destruction-"
"Oh, thank you!" Balthazar called ironically.
"But because of this, and the fact that he uses those types of spells often, he'll be more powerful and creative in that regard. I doubt you'd have an easy time fighting him with brute force, Prime Merlinian or not."
"Especially if you can't make a vacuum quickly!" The older man said loudly and pointedly. Dave rolled his eyes and rolled his hand in a circular motion, making little tornados of wind that tossed around Balthazar's papers playfully. Veronica shook her head and snapped her fingers. The papers jumped back onto the table meekly. Dave grinned, impressed.
"Is there a spell that does that with socks?" He asked, totally sincere. Veronica laughed.
"If there isn't, you could probably make one. That's the thing. Don't ever for a second believe that you're obligated to take the paths created for you." Dave nodded thoughtfully.
"Could you-" He was interrupted by his watch, which beeped piercingly. "Oh crap. Sorry, I have to go." He jumped up, held out his hand for Veronica, and ran for the door. "Thanks so much for the lesson, Veronica! Good luck with… Whatever it is that you're doing, Balthazar! See you tomorrow!" The door slammed behind him, leaving two very confused people in its wake.
"What on earth was that?" Veronica asked. Balthazar thought about it, then shrugged.
"Want to go see?"
"You mean follow him?" Veronica gasped, feigning shock. The man grinned as he stood. "You're a wicked man, Balthazar. What sort of master would stalk his own student?"
"Merlin did that," he pointed out. "Twice. Remember?"
"I do…" She said nostalgically. "You were on edge for weeks afterwards. Kept looking over your shoulder, sure someone was following you." She shook her head, giggling. "We should have told you it was us before you killed that squirrel, but it was just so funny." Balthazar sighed and started for the door.
"Well, come on, love. Let's go find that wayward ward of ours."
"Say that again," Veronica said quietly, going over to him and touching his sleeve. Balthazar turned to her, surprised.
"'Love'. It's a nice word and you don't use it often." She wasn't angry or anything, it seemed. Just thoughtful. Balthazar smiled slightly, gripping her hand in his.
"Whatever you say, love." He turned and looked around, the smile disappearing. "Where on earth is my coat?" Veronica laughed lightly.
"Yes, my coat!" He looked under the table, his hand still holding hers. "I take it off for one minute and it's just gone." He straightened and looked at her. "My hat disappeared too."
"It has to be here somewhere," Veronica said reasonably. "But if we want to stalk our apprentice, we have to look later." Balthazar sighed and nodded, grumbling under his breath as they left the cavern, the little werelights floating in the air before winking out, one by one.
"You're an ass," Becky said fondly. "A complete, utter ass."
Halloween night was well underway, and the NYU Halloween Party was in full swing. Robin Hoods, nurses, cowboys, cowgirls, and various other, more creatively dressed people danced and drank and made merry.
"Dude," Bennet cried, waddling up in… something. "What are you supposed to be?"
"I was about to ask the same thing." Dave said slowly as Becky took a drink of her fruit punch. "Are you… doody?" Becky snorted and coughed, putting down the cup and leaning against Dave to regain the ability to breathe. Bennet looked offended.
"No!" He crossed his arms… or tried to, which only made Becky crack up more. "Here, here, I'll help you out. I'm a potato, which is a spud." He looked at Dave to see if he was following. Dave nodded. "And I have antennae." He tapped the ridiculous headpiece. "So I'm….?"
Dave looked at Becky, clearly trying not to laugh. "Space doody?" He asked, and the two collapsed in a fit of giggles.
"SPUTNIK!" Bennet wailed. "I'm Sputnik! Spudnik, Sputnik- Oh, forget it!" He "stomped" off, antennae waving, as Dave and Becky tried desperately to get some composure.
"You look nice." Dave wheezed, grinning. "Well, better than nice, of course."
"Thanks," Becky giggled, brushing the skirt of the princess gown with her hands. "And you look… gritty." Dave straightened and tapped the brim of his hat.
"Most terrifying man in New York," he said, a small smile ruining the otherwise very serious effect. "Balthazar Blake, at your service, ma'am."
"He's been looking everywhere for that hat," his girlfriend replied wonderingly. "He's going to kill you for stealing his clothes."
"Oh, no he's not." Dave replied easily, sipping his punch. "He's too emotionally invested in me. We're practically brothers- Hell." He gestured to the clothes with a wry grin. "We're practically twins." Becky laughed. As she did so, Dave glanced around, looking for other friends or maybe Balthazar pushing through the crowd, irate at the sight of his hat on Dave's head. As he looked around, his eyes passed briefly over a bowler hat…
Dave froze. He'd picked up that hat after he defeated Morgana. Its owner had disappeared. Somewhere along the line, the hat had disappeared as thoroughly as its owner.
There they were.
Horvath leaned idly against the wall across the room from Dave, twirling his walking stick. When Dave noticed him, he smiled, brought his walking stick down with a solid thud, and quirked a finger, clearly beckoning him.
The wrong thing to do, the stupid thing to do, would be to go over there with no back up. So…
"Becky," Dave said, his tone hiding the tension in his body remarkably well. "Don't look around, but Horvath is hanging out across the room." Becky froze, and he could tell it was taking all of her self-control not to whirl around to look. "So go find Balthazar and Veronica while I go over there and see what's going on. They're probably back at the lab."
"Dave-" She started.
"If he wanted to kill me, he would have done it already. He doesn't care about collateral damage." This clearly wasn't helping. He grinned. "Don't worry. I'm the Prime Merlinian. I took care of Morgana le Fay; you think Horvath's gonna be able to do anything?" Becky didn't seem convinced. "The quicker you are, the quicker I have back up." Becky hesitated, nodded, gave him a quick peck on the lips, and hurried off.
And with a terrifying sense of déjà vu, Dave made his way across the room to the man who tried to kill him. Twice. At least.