“Nilien, good, come on in. And Ember, hello, both of you. Have a seat.” Professor Hestinger was beaming; Nilien had not seen him this happy ever before. “Today we are going to start working on one of my favorite parts of magic: object manipulation! It can be quite trivial-seeming at this level, but the more you focus on it, the more useful it will be.”

“Object manipulation, Professor?” Nilien sat down and smoothed her skirt to make a perfect landing place for Ember.

“Moving objects with the power of your mind – or rather, magic. As I said on your first day here with me, eventually we’re going to learn what your specialty is, and to do that, we get to practice a wide range of skills first.”

“So we’re not working on magic sight this week?” She had been struggling with it for a while, but she felt like she was just getting the hang of it.”

“No, no. You need to give yourself a little rest on that and, besides, you have the basics down perfectly fine. So today-” the professor bounced a small red ball in his hand – “we are going to play around a little, as they say.”

“Professor, I have so much catching up to do,” Nilien protested. “I can’t take time to just… play.”

“Ah.” Professor Hestinger smiled broadly. “Yes. But this is not just play. This is play and learning all in one. Besides, it will do you good to relax. Perhaps tomorrow we can take our learning out in the garden.”

Ember made a noise in Nilien’s mind that sounded a little like scoffing. Nilien petted the fox between the ears soothingly.

“All right, Professor. I trust your judgement. What are we doing?”

“I am going to hold this ball here, and you are going to move it without touching it. Understand?”

“Yes, Professor.” She settled in a little more comfortably, focused on the ball, and began picturing it lifting.

Nothing happened.

By this point, that was beginning to be the norm rather than the exception. Nilien huffed at the ball anyway and thought about the way the ball looked, bouncing in the professor’s hand, how it would look bouncing up onto the ceiling and back down. It would ricochet off and bap Ember right there between the ears and –

The ball bounced up to the ceiling and bounced down on Ember’s head before flying off to the side of the room.

“Very good, very good!” Professor Hestinger applauded.

Very something, Ember muttered.

The professor produced a slightly larger ball. “Let’s see you try that again – although perhaps with slightly less enthusiasm?”

This time, she managed not to hit Ember in the head, although she did lose another ball in the side of the room. By the time class was over, she was contentedly levitating a ball the size of her fist in mid-air.

“Very good, very good. Practice with that throughout the day – but do remember not to wear yourself out. I look forward to seeing what you can do tomorrow.”

Lift trees, Nilien thought, but that was still quite a ways away. Hopefully, she’d get there before someone tried to drop something else on her.

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