Tharo Pelvacto looked out from the astronomy tower over the academy courtyard. Groups of students were scattered about it in a seemingly random pattern. Sitting alone in a corner was a boy with long, brown hair. It was uncombed and unwashed.
His clothes were dirty as well. His unwillingness to conform to the basic standards of appearance had made him the laughing stock of the other teenagers, but he had gradually cared less about that. It coincided with his declining interest in personal hygiene.
Over the past year, Tharo had watched Tharash descend into apathy, though ‘descend’ had a more negative sound to it than he wanted to imply. He was the only one in his class that had not learned any wizardry at all and had gradually figured out that he was the loser of his class, regardless of how he presented himself.
He seemed focused on ploughing through his education with grades ranging from meagre to decent. His long term plan was to finish it, but he probably hadn’t a clue what to do afterwards. That was irrelevant, though. He had stopped trying to compete with anyone, and lost an attachment to many things he shouldn’t have cared for in the first place.
“Yes, I suppose it is time,” he muttered to himself as the door opened and a class of young students flowed in for their first introduction into the wonders of astronomy. Tharash would have to wait, just a few hours longer.
Tharash looked around the courtyard at the other students. None of them even bothered him anymore. Not even Eleana came to him to rub in just how pathetic he was. Sure, they all gave him looks of disdain, but those had gotten old over the months.
If he had been on the bottom of teenager society at the academy before, he now found himself in a little hole in the ground, underneath the basement. All his classmates had learned some wizardry, and Eleana and Kastor were no longer the only ones capable of displaying their power in the Gymnasium, when Master Pelu allowed it.
The masters still cared for some reason. Why, he could only guess. Perhaps they still hoped to see a glimpse of the grandeur his father had apparently possessed underneath his long, unkempt hair. A small hope that he’d turn out all right if they continued to care. Or perhaps there simply was some kind of instinct teachers had where they strived to bring out the best in their students, no matter how hopeless the case. Either way they were fools, but nice fools.
He had to admit that, thanks to their efforts, classes were still the most interesting parts of the day. Though that was mostly due to the lack of anything remotely interesting outside the classrooms. His classmates were always eager to be done with school, because they apparently had more important things to do or places to go. What those would be, he couldn’t even imagine. Not that he cared enough to think about it much. They were too different from him to bother.
A bell echoed across the courtyard, signalling the end of the break. Tharash got up and headed inside. His next class was geology, one of his favourite subjects, given of course by Master Telaios. He surprised himself with the eagerness with which he headed over to the classroom.
“Ah, welcome, Tharash,” the old master said as he opened the door.
“How did you know it was me, Master?” he asked as he fully entered the classroom.
“Who else?” Telaios smiled at him. “You seem to be the only one in this class that finds the lectures more interesting than the breaks.”
Tharash shrugged. “Nothing interesting ever happens during the breaks.”
“Why, thank you!” Telaios said cheerful.
Tharash raised an eyebrow at him. What had gotten the master so excited? “What for?” he asked confused.
“You just said that my class is interesting,” Telaios laughed. His long, white beard bounced along with the laughter. “So I hope you don’t mind I changed the topic for today’s class.”
“Oh,” he said, failing to hide his disappointment. “What will it be about, then?”
“This,” Telaios picked up a small rock from his desk and handed it to Tharash. “You know what this is?”
Tharash spun the small stone around in his fingers. Of course he knew it. “This is a piece of the meteor that crashed in my backyard a year ago,”
“Very good,” Telaios complimented him. “That means you’re one step ahead of the rest of class.”
At that moment, the other students started to enter the classroom. Tharash picked a seat in the front, while the others slowly filled up from the back.
When the class was complete, Telaios showed the meteor piece. He handed it to a student. “Everyone, take a quick look at it and pass it on.”
Most students took a quick glance at it and either gave a puzzled look as they passed it on or dismissed it as a simple rock. Once the stone had been through almost the entire class, Telaios asked: “Can anyone tell me what this is?”
The entire class remained silent, including Tharash. He could have shown off once the stone reached his hands, but he didn’t. Keeping it secret was more fun. He simply handed it back to Master Telaios with a slight grin. It was their little secret, let the others figure it out.
The master looked around the classroom. “Nobody has a clue? Did anyone notice anything special, then?”
Most people shrugged or gave each other confused looks. A few nodded, though. They had noticed something, though what it was was hard to tell.
Finally someone opened his mouth: “An improved firestone?” he asked carefully, hoping he didn’t just make a fool of himself.
“Not bad,” Telaios complimented.
That encouraged others to speak. “Is it from around here?” a girl asked.
“Not exactly, but you made an interesting observation. Let me ask you: why is this called a geology class?”
Tharash had a hard time keeping his face in shape. They were all so clueless.
“Perhaps you can tell something about it, Tharash?”
He nodded and smiled. “May I see it again?”
Telaios handed him the meteor piece again. He spun it around in his hands. It looked like a normal rock. There were some minerals in it, and he knew that some of them were not found on this world. “This here looks like quartz, but is seven-sided instead.” he said.
“An excellent observation,” Telaios cheered. “Can anyone tell me the name of that crystal?”
The class remained silent.
“Well, don’t be ashamed. We do not have a name for a crystal like that. Why not?”
“It doesn’t exist,” Tharash answered. He found the looks on the faces of his classmates priceless.
“Would you care to elaborate on how you found a crystal that doesn’t exist?” Telaios asked him, enjoying the puzzled wonder of his class almost as much as Tharash.
“It doesn’t exist in the earth. The only sensible explanation is that this comes from a star,” he explained. One look at Telaios told him this was exactly what the master had expected of him when he asked that first question.
“An unusual explanation. But it is correct. To be fair, Tharash here was of course the one that found the meteor this is from. However, the analysis could be done by any of you, and should have led you to the same conclusion.”
Whispering erupted in the class, but Telaios ignored it. “I hope you all have learned from this to look beyond the obvious and do careful observations, regardless how mundane an object may seem.”
The rest of the class involved an introduction into the process of crystallization. There were a lot of formulas involved, but Tharash was too fascinated with the topic to be bothered by that. His calculations were rarely perfect the first time, but at least he had become proficient at understanding the theory behind it.
He was still one of the slower students in the class, but at least he’d eventually, after numerous iterations of trial and error, get it right. The bell rang, well before Tharash felt that two hours had passed. Besides, he didn’t feel like leaving until he got that stubborn calculation right.
As the other packed up their books and started to leave, Master Telaios came over to his table to watch him work. After a quick glance, he mentioned: “You wrote the formula wrong here,” pointing at the top of his sheet of paper.
In disbelief, he compared with the formula in his book. Of course, his teacher was right. Frustrated, he started to modify his calculation for the fifth time.
“Don’t bother with that, son. Just think: what does this mean for your outcome?”
He looked at his final equation, realizing it was indeed that simple. He turned the minus into a plus with one stroke of his pen and suddenly it all made sense.
“The rest of your work is correct,” Telaios patted him on the back. “Go home.”
“Thank you, Master,” he said, smiling uneasily as he started to pack his books.
Telaios had something else to talk about, though. “How is life with Master Pelvacto?” he asked casually.
“It’s fine,” he gave Telaios a somewhat sour look.
Telaios raised an eyebrow at him when he didn’t elaborate.
“He still won’t teach me any wizardry.”
“Hmmm, I talked to him about that when he refused your request. But I don’t think that argument is valid anymore. Maybe I can discuss it with him, tomorrow?”
That turned Tharash’s face into a bright smile. “Thank you, Master! I’d appreciate that very much.”
“Don’t mention it. Just go home, son. And be nice to Tharo. He’s not a bad man.”
“I know that,” Tharash muttered as he left.