Emilia steps into the old office. Everything is immaculate from perfectly lined books to the man's own perfectly fitted suit, and it all feels so...still. There's a window that lets the sun shine in, since it's as clean as the rest of the office, but it might as well be nailed shut as far as the stale air was concerned.
She planned this for so long that Emilia jolts when she realizes she has nothing to say. Blunt, then?
The words tumble out. "Can you teach me any magic?"
She kicks herself, immediately. Sloppy, clearly sloppy, hardly fit for anyone who cares to ever become a mage, much less one studying under Dr. Johnson. He would just say she was there because her mother had taught him, and he'd be wrong, but how could she say that to him--
He turns. "I was wondering when you'd ask."
Emilia, for all that she had not planned what to say, had an outline in her head. And then he had to go and say that.
"Um," she says, eloquently.
"Though I do admit, when I was your age I was still attempting to plan my speech to convince the mage I wanted to study under," he says. Dr. Johnson isn't quite smiling, but his face is softer than Emilia had ever seen it.
"I rather skipped that part."
The mage shrugs. His suit wrinkles very slightly, and he does not fix it. "I forgot the whole thing anyway. More work than one would think, memorizing a speech."
"...Does this mean you'll teach me?"
"Depends." The man holds up his index finger to tell the fifteen-year-old to wait. "And I will know if you simply say something you think I want to hear."
Emilia nods and straightens, ready for any difficult question he might pose.
"Why do you want to be a mage?"
"I want to help people," she says immediately. "I want to heal people, and I want to be able to make shields so people don't need healing."
"That's not an easy path."
The healer's daughter nods. "But it's easier than watching. For me."
"Second question." Emilia swallows. "Why do you want me for a teacher?"
"Because you're the best at teaching the fields I want to learn."
"What would you do if you can't learn healing?"
"I'd learn other spells and adapt them to healing, and I'd learn more mundane methods of healing."
Still not a smile on the doctor's face, but a hint of approval. "And if you could not learn any magic?"
Emilia blinks. It sounds an innocuous enough question, she supposes, especially in light of her previous response. She's already declared herself willing to take other paths to her destination, and there are non-magical routes.
But that's not it, really. Learning difficult spells like this...some people can only ever make sparks, not fires. Trying can burn them out. It was rare, spectacularly rare with a good teacher--which was part of why she had chosen him, she supposes, but that wasn't really the point. Emilia found the person who could teach her the most.
"I'd retreat into my room for...a little while, I think," she says. "Then I'd look for more mundane methods of healing. Probably Watch." There's a feeling, to someone pushing the magic too far. Some excellent teachers could sense it, but everyone who had gone through the loss knew it, instinctively, immediately. Knew when to stop someone else. Watchers are rare; they rarely want anything to do with magic. But they are useful.
"You are sure you could be around magic, even after losing yours?" The teacher's voice is low now, soft and deep. Gentle, Emilia supposes.
The mage-in-training realizes her posture had slumped and stands back up, squaring her shoulders. "Yes. It might take me a little while, but I'd do it."
He nods, then drops a book she realized he must have grabbed as she walked through the door. "Good. Have that read by Monday, and take good notes. Your training starts in earnest then."
Emilia nods, takes the book gently, and walks to the library.
After the door clicks behind her, the man allows himself a smile.