Chapter 1: He Needs Some Milk
It started with a note. An unfamiliar faculty member entered the classroom and headed straight for Marx after confirming with the professor. She slid a yellow slip of parchment onto his desk and slid away just as quietly. Paying no mind to her, he pawed the slip towards himself and read.
SUMMONS FOR:MARX,3rd year
To: Office of the Housemistress Senior
Time:After Dinner, as promptly as possible
“Well, that's strange.” Marx was used to being summoned to various places by the faculty. If it wasn't to reprimand him for agitating yet another classmate to the point of violence,it was a professor requesting his assistance in setting up a lesson after classes had concluded. Though he hated his classmates, he was fond of his professors, often going out of his way to assist them or to ask extra questions about their area of expertise. His zeal for knowledge and willingness to help made him a faculty favorite, and it was their positive relationships with him that prevented his expulsion despite his frequent fights. This happened to be a note from the housemistress, a woman he had only spoken to once during his enrollment to ensure he'd sleep alone. He hadn't gotten into any fights recently and she didn't teach any of his classes.
The only way to find out what she wanted from him was to go. He slid the note into the pocket of his uniform cloak and continued working.
Once the day had passed and dinner had concluded, he plodded up the stairs to the housemistress's office to discover what she wanted with him. It had been a long day. All he wanted to do was take a nap before settling into his work again, but he couldn't refuse to show up and his curiosity had been plaguing him throughout the day. He knocked quietly on the door.
“Enter.” He made sure to close the door quietly behind him before settling neatly into the comfy chair she had placed in front of her desk. Prim and aged, with her hair pinned up into a style that had gone out of fashion on her home planet at least a few decades ago, the housemistress’ appearance screamed proper and strict.
“Hello Marx. I know you’re not particularly fond of little social niceties, so let’s get right into it. It’s about your living situation.”
“What about it?”
“I know you specifically requested to have a dorm to yourself, and due to your...social situation, we’ve allowed it. However we’re currently at capacity due to a sudden rise in aspiring mages, so as of tomorrow that’s going to be changing. We have an exchange student coming in from Halcandra tomorrow, and you’re the only student without a roommate.”
“I’m not taking on a roommate. Especially not some random person I don’t even know!”
“You have no choice in the matter.” The housemistress gave Marx a tight-lipped smile that allowed no room for argument. “Go make space for their things. Dismissed.”
Marx scooted out of his seat roughly and left the office. The grumbling began the second he left the area. By the time he had reached his dorm hallway, it had devolved into full on swearing. He had the perfect setup here! No one bothered him in his room and he could do whatever he wanted without anyone watching. Now they expected him to deal with someone snoring next to him and making a mess in his room. Knowing his luck, the loser would probably even try to make friends with him.
Magolor arrived late the next night to a clean and orderly dorm room, exactly half of it marked out for his use with masking tape that extended all the way up the wall and onto the ceiling. Marx was sitting up for him, lights on. Magolor looked up to see his new roommate. A small, lavender-colored puff of fur practically glaring daggers into his skull.
“Um, hello there! I'm Ma--”
“Your half is over there. You sleep on the bottom bunk. Don't make any noises.” With that, he rolled over and pulled the blanket over himself.
Marx proved to be a difficult roommate. Every sound Magolor made would immediately be met with glares and sharp insults, whether the scratch of a pen on parchment or the turn of a page. Once a simple sneeze resulted in an agonized scream. When not berating Magolor, Marx remained silent. He went about his business without so much as a word or a glance at Magolor.
Unfortunately for Magolor, their room wasn’t the only place he’d have to see Marx. They shared a few classes, Alchemistry being the most difficult. Outside of his room, Marx seemed to be a completely different person. His hand was the first to shoot up in class and his answers were loud and detailed. He finished his work before anyone else, then took out even more. His enthusiasm drew attention from every student around him. They snickered to each other loudly enough that Marx would be able to hear (Magolor certainly could) but he gave no indication that he heard them at all. He read his books and took notes without even turning his head. One student, a Bronto Burt whose wings made enormous lumps in the back of his cape, turned to Magolor.
“Do you think he ever learned to shut up? Dude’s always up his own ass about how smart he is.”
Magolor's brow furrowed. “But he's not saying anything. He's just doing work again. And he does know the answers when the professor asks for them, so shouldn't he tell her?” Sure, Marx was insufferable in their room, but outside of it he didn’t cause any harm. Magolor couldn’t figure out why this guy got so upset about someone studying.
The Bronto made a face that hovered between confusion and disgust. “What? No, he just...never mind. You're apparently too stupid to get it.”
“I'm not stupid.” Magolor tried to respond, but they had already turned away from him, apparently uninterested in anything else he had to say. He sighed to himself and turned back to the professor, who stood at the front of the class. She clasped her hands in front of her, beaming enthusiastically. This woman enjoyed her job very much.
“All right, for this next part you're going to need to find a partner and an open desk. We're going to attempt to create the substance we went over earlier. It's all right if you don't get it the first time! This is only a practice run. You'll have the chance to perfect it later. If you lack protective gloves, there are some in the cabinet in the back of the room. Now quick! Go find your partners and take a seat.”
Most of the students had already locked eyes with one another, and at the professor's signal rose from their seats and headed directly for one another. Magolor remained firmly in place, anxiety rising. He had been here a week and still didn't know the names of his classmates, let alone how to befriend them. None of them had displayed any interest in him after the first two days, when he had been a novelty to be asked endless questions.
The seat next to him was empty, the Bronto having already joined their friend across the room. Every person had a partner. He was all alone, and the professor would ask why. Then she’d put him in a group of three, and he’d be the awkward extra partner that nobody actually wants there. Then he’d be known as the person who can’t get a partner on his own, and he’d have to deal with that forever! His head turned from side to side uselessly, mind probing in random directions as he tried to figure out the correct course of action for his unfortunate social situation. There had to be some way he could--wait.
The seat next to Marx was open.
As far as he knew, Marx hated his guts. He became upset with Magolor for the smallest reasons and he could never figure out why. It would be risky, and possibly one of the more socially painful experiences he’d have to deal with today. But it would be the only chance he got to avoid the humiliation of being alone. After a few moments spent steeling himself for the move, Magolor lifted his things and carried them to Marx’s table.
“Can I partner with you?” His voice came out much quieter than he intended, but Marx heard it anyways. He turned to Magolor, already irritated. “No. Leave.”
“But we both need a partner. I don’t see anyone else offering, and we’re the only two people left.” Magolor moved closer, insisting. Marx turned away in his chair.
“I’ll do it on my own!”
“Tried that before. They just stuff you into a group of three. This class is even numbered, so we don’t even get an excuse to try this time.”
Marx hissed under his breath in exasperation. “Fuck.”
“Well? Scoot over!” This time it came out louder than he wanted. A pair of students at a nearby table looked over at him, startled. Whoops.
Surprised and a bit confused, Marx reluctantly slid over on the bench. Magolor took a seat, setting his books down near the corner of the right side of the desk. He was careful to maintain a good distance, giving Marx half of the bench to himself.
“Just don’t fuck up the ingredient order. Damn thing takes ten minutes to hit the right water temperature, and I am not starting over.”
Magolor turned to him with a look of surprise. “Have you done this before?”
“Of course I have! I study a couple of chapters ahead. A little head start at the beginning, and no one else can catch up!” Marx puffed himself up proudly as he boasted about his abilities.
“Can you show me how to do it?”
“Pfft. Sure. If you're too dumb to figure it out yourself, I guess I can throw you a bone. Watch closely. I'll only do it once.”
“I'm not dumb.” Magolor's tone went flat. He had said so many times before, but it seemed that no one would listen to him.
“Then prove it by paying attention when someone's giving you free information.”
Marx set a beaker of water onto a metal grate. It sat over a blue flame burning airlessly in a small, spherical contraption. He spent a moment tweaking a small knob on the side, then turned to pull a mortar and pestle from a drawer.
“First you set the water to a gentle simmer,then you take the amfrus powder in a separate bowl, and sift it…”
Twenty minutes later, the concoction in the beaker had become a cool blue, swirling in the beaker of its own accord. It seemed to have the consistency of honey, and emitted a scent somewhere between gasoline and fresh morning air.
The professor walked from table to table, examining the work of her students. Multiple beakers were filled with black sludge. Two had reached a purplish color that earned the students responsible a small smile. When she came to Marx's table, she stopped, eyebrows raised.
“You two did this?”
Marx grinned up at her. “There's no one else here!”
She carefully lifted the beaker, swirling the contents around and holding it up to a light. “Proper color, correct viscosity, no precipitate...this is completely correct! You two did a wonderful job! Do you mind if I bring this to the front to show the class?” Magolor remained silent, face warm.
“Go right ahead!” Marx beamed up at her. She strode up to the front and called attention to the beaker. “Now class, this is what your potion should look like, and will eventually. Notice…”
As she droned on, Marx nudged Magolor's side. “Feel that, Magolor?”, he muttered. “That bloom of satisfaction?" Magolor nodded, eyes still on the teacher. "That's success. We outdid every single one of those idiots. Of course, it was mostly me, but you did a sufficient job on the orgofax root. Feels nice though, doesn't it?”
“It does.” A warm, bursting feeling swelled in his chest that made Magolor almost want to stand up and crow about his achievement. “Everyone seems kind of mad at us, though. Isn't that going to cause problems?”
“Eh. You get used to it. That's the price of being better!” Marx began to snicker, pointing out some of the more horrendous failed attempts. Eventually Magolor found himself laughing as well. He decided that he liked this sort of gossiping a lot more.
When he arrived at their dorm and settled in to do his homework Marx didn't snap at him even once.
The end of the school day had arrived at last. The sun was setting over the trees in the distance, filling the empty hallway with a golden glow. Magolor had spent an extra half hour in his last period asking the professor a few questions alongside Marx. Their two weeks of lab partnerships had left Marx with a habit of explaining everything he did to Magolor, even when they were in their dorm. Evidently he enjoyed having an audience for his work.
A lovely side effect to Magolor's new rubber duck status was that he had almost gotten as far ahead of the other students as Marx. He took to his new studies like a rubber duck to water. The puff made sure to study at least a unit ahead in private before telling Magolor all about the previous one.
His lab partner was currently nowhere to be found. They had parted ways at the door, Magolor moving in the direction of his locker to drop off unneeded books. Marx went in another direction to “take care of something.” Magolor pried his locker open and began to tuck his extra books into the bottom. The workload would be light tonight, only numeric systems and a few pages of history reading that he had already heard about from his roommate's lectures. He slammed it shut, then tapped the front, sealing it to everyone but him. One perk of attending Paraffanta's Academy was that you never had to remember a locker combination.
“Magolor! Magolor! Hey! Quick, hold this!” A familiar voice called his name. Magolor turned around just in time to watch Marx barrel down the hall. He ran directly towards Magolor before thrusting a small, slimy object into his paws and disappearing behind a corner. It turned out to be a small, yellowish, extremely docile frog. “Hello there!” The frog stared up at Magolor's grin blankly, throat ballooning. A shadow fell over the pair, and Magolor looked up to see a rather large student leaning over Magolor angrily. The beefy simirror glared at him.
“Give me the frog, freak.”
“Why?” For someone who needed something from him, this guy was being incredibly rude. He had never been called a freak by anyone polite.
“For the damn game! Hand it up!”
“A frog game? It doesn't hurt the frog, does it?” He held the tiny creature closer to himself, shielding it from the simirror.
“Listen, fr--” The boy's words were cut off by his own shout of surprise as he flipped upside down and rose into the air. Marx revealed himself from behind the corner, wheezing between the gusts of howling laughter bursting out of him. “I love fishing wire so much! Look at his stupid face! That's what you get for pouring milk on me, asshole!”
Magolor looked out at the now slowly spinning figure swearing angrily at both of them. His hair was disheveled and his pants were sliding downwards. His shirt had ripped at the hem where the wire had pulled it away from him. Something about him was so ridiculous that Magolor began to giggle. He really did look stupid, didn’t he? Just spinning in the air like that. “Bet you feel bad about calling me that now, huh?”
“What'd he say?” Marx laughed a bit less, looking puzzled.
“He called me a freak.”
Marx stopped laughing, scowling briefly before he pulled his face back into a characteristic smirk. “Well, what are you waiting for? Give him a whack! He deserves it.”
Magolor took a step forward, slowly raising a glove in front of the prone bully. Then he took a step back. “I'll be right back. Don't put him down yet.” With that, he rushed away down the hall.
The cafeteria was only a short walk from his locker. After a careful peek through the kitchen window, he slipped inside. It took only a second to find what he needed. The frog went safely outside a door on the way back.
Magolor returned to the scene with a carton of milk. Marx's face split into a joyous grin. “Oh, that's brilliant!” Magolor flushed slightly and stepped up to the bully, opening the lip of the carton.
“Don't you dare.” The bully began to wriggle desperately, having spent the last few minutes trying to break the line with his still bound hands.
“I do!” Magolor beamed up at him. “Be more polite when you want something from someone next time, okay? Don't call them rude things.”
The first of the milk went on the bully's face. The rest of it went evenly across his back and the rest of his body. Marx has howling with laughter, feet in the air. In a fit of boldness, Magolor crushed the empty carton against the boy's face. He was breathless with laughter and exhilaration.
“What are you *doing*?” The laughter stopped with a hot pang of fear. Their history professor stood in the hall, eyes wide with disbelief.
“Headmaster's office. Now.”
The headmaster's office looked like a neat box of mahogany and leather. Three chairs sat in front of the desk, most likely meant for a student and their parents. Marx and Magolor sat next to each other, the third seat occupied by their history teacher.
The headmaster, an old, gently grizzled mage, seemed much more serious than he usually did. “So, Marx, I've been told you've gotten into another altercation involving other students, and you dragged this one along with you.”
“I wasn't dragged in. I joined in.” Magolor quivered where he sat, but did his best to hide it. He couldn't even look at the headmaster, his eyes sliding around the desk and Marx's face instead. Marx had managed to stay completely calm. He had been in this position many times before.
“And why is that?”
“He poured milk on Marx. And he was going to hurt a frog, I think.”
Marx interrupted. “And he called Magolor a freak.”
“He deserved what he got. It's only fair.”
The headmaster's brow furrowed. “Is that so? He'll be disciplined for that. After all, it's our job to discipline students, not yours.”
Marx cut in. “He did the milk thing before to other students and got away with it. You can ask around.”
“I apologize for the lapse in discipline, but neither of you are qualified to dispense punishments for your classmates. That’s a faculty job, isn't it Dr.Naramo?” Their professor nodded, and the headmaster continued.
“While I understand that he bullied you, due to your retaliatory behavior I'm still going to have to punish you. However, I do understand that there were complex circumstances at play here. Magolor, this is your first offense and you both are otherwise outstanding students. In my personal opinion, your behavior was not entirely unjustified, simply misguided. You will both clean up the milk and string you left down there immediately, then attend an hour's detention during your free hour on Marasday. If something like this happens again, report it to me or my assistants. I will not have anyone making my students feel unwelcome in their home. Run along now and ask the custodian for a mop and scissors.”
Once the pair had left the headmaster turned to Dr.Naramo. “Nice to see him finally make a friend here, isn't it?”
"Let's hope it lasts."
Detention came and went easily. Magolor and Marx spent the time working silently on problems that wouldn't be due for a month and passing notes to each other when they believed that the supervising teacher wasn't looking. In truth, Dr.Naramo simply didn't wish to disturb the birth of a good thing.
The tension in their dorm room had completely dissipated. The tape had peeled away without a replacement. Magolor could scratch away at his homework to his heart's content without even a peep from Marx. He knew to be quiet when his roommate needed to sleep or focus. Marx returned the favor by remembering the things Magolor would otherwise forget, be it where he placed a certain item or an assignment he had neglected to write down. Unfortunately for Magolor, the item he had lost this time fell under his bed while he was using it.
“Oh come on, where’d you go this time…” Magolor shimmied under the bunk bed, pawing around the books he had stowed beneath his bunk.
A purple head peered over the side of the top bunk. “Whad’ya lose this time?”
“My pen. Again. I swear, these things are the most skilled invisibility users on the entire planet.”
Magolor heard a muffled snort , then felt something bounce off of his back. “You can borrow mine. Don’t lose it, though, or you owe me.” He crawled out backwards to find what had fallen on him.
“Uh, thanks--you use a fountain pen?”
“Do you have eyes? I’ve been using one since before you came here.” A quiet zipping sound indicated that Marx had pulled another from his bag.
“Huh. Guess I don't,then. I didn’t really pay attention to what you write with.”
Magolor returned to his bed and continued his work.
“And you write in purple?”
“It’s my brand! Keeps people from claiming my reports as theirs when I forget to write my name. Now be quiet! I’m trying to read!”
“But I wrote my name in black! Everyone’s going to think I stole your work!”
“Restart it then! Jeeze.”
“But I already wrote three paragraphs!”
“Do you want the pen or not?”
The rustling of parchment could be heard below as Magolor prepared new pages. He was forever thankful that scrolls would only be used for the final essays.
Just as he predicted, their professor claimed that Marx had written Magolor's essay. It took both testimony from Marx and a handwriting comparison to convince them otherwise. “I apologize for being suspicious. Your statements were remarkably similar, so I had believed that Marx had written both in his purple ink.”
“Oh! That's because Marx is helping me study ahead! He taught me about this a couple weeks before you brought it up in class. He's really good at it!”
“Is that so?” They turned to Marx with a little half-grin. “Think you can get the rest of the class that excited about magical document format styles?”
Marx stared vacantly into the space behind the professor's head, a tiny grin on his face. A small poke from Magolor made him start suddenly.
“Oh! Yes, of course--I mean no, sorry, I can only tutor him. I mean, in theory I could do the whole class, but Magolor’s a cut above so he's a lot easier to work with, not that it's hard to work with the others, which is not to say that your job is easy, of course, it's just a pref--” a patterned white glove gently patted over Marx's mouth. Magolor had almost tipped over in silent laughter.
“Easy there, kiddo. I understood what you meant.” The professor smiled at him, their eyes glinting with something mischievous. “You two go keep up the good work, all right?”
Marx gently brushed the glove aside. “Yeah! Yeah. Come on, Mags.” He turned and went for the door a bit too eagerly.
“Mags? Since when did you call me that?”
“You have a three syllable name, pal. I'm not saying that mouthful all the time, so it makes sense to give you a nickname. Why? You got a problem with it?”
“No, no, it's ..sort of nice, actually.”
Chapter 2: Night School
A cool wind slid around the campus as Marx made the ten minute trek to the dormitories. A routine Senferday afternoon discussion with a favorite professor dragged on a bit longer than usual. Then a lot longer. They had started with a few simple clarifications, devolved into a small debate, and then moved into a conversation on the finer points of large scale casting and the importance of maintaining precise right angles on globally-cast triangular rituals. Marx had left the office with a paper covered in scrawled reading recommendations and a dark sky overhead. He folded the paper carefully and tucked it into his cloak pocket alongside his paws.The cloaks here were something special. Enchanted to be warm in the cold and cool in the heat, hydrophobic, and best of all, eternally soft.
This weather made him thankful for it. The days were getting shorter again and birds were beginning to arrive from the south. Marx had lived here long enough to know that chattering in the trees meant winter was approaching.
But the chattering had been missing for a few minutes. The wind had stopped. A new heaviness weighed on the air around him, as if something had been added. Probably an illusion caused by the wind stopping. Warmth engulfed him, and his mind prickled with the sudden impression of being watched.
The sensation of a cold hand slid around the back of his head. Marx took off running immediately, a bust of blind panic sending him hurtling towards the door to his building. He had to get inside. As he ran the hand followed, seemingly stuck to him. The thought of being pursued only made him panic further. He fumbled desperately with door before yanking it open and slamming it behind him. The cold subsided immediately. He kept his pace up until he reached his room.
Once outside his own door, he stopped. He was being silly. Nothing was out there at all, and he sprinted away from nothing. What would Magolor think of him? He had to calm down and behave normally. He took a breath, relaxed his face, and opened the door.
“Hey Mags. What's up?” Magolor scratched away dutifully on assignments, but had looked up at the door when he heard the knob turning.
“Hey to you too. You're back late.”
“Eh, me 'n Professor Kranchet got into a discussion and lost track of time.” He brought his paws up in a shrug, but Magolor was too busy writing to see. A familiar sight peeked out over the paper. “Did you get a fountain pen?”
“I like the way yours felt, so I went and got one! Mine's in blue, though.”
“I can't believe it. You've stolen my gimmick. I thought we were friends, Magolor!”
“Is poor penmanship with a fancy pen and novelty ink really a gimmick? Seems more like a mistake to me.”
“Not all of us can have on-so-flawless cursive, bud. No wonder you write so much more slowly than me!
“Because I want to be able to read my work afterwards. What's the point of taking notes if you can't read them?”
“I can read them just fine, and they're for me, so it works!”
They chattered back and forth for a few hours, Marx telling Magolor about his conversation with the professor and Magolor telling a story about the person behaving strangely at the shop he been at earlier. They had been watching him from a corner and moving in a disjointed way, more like a marionette than a person. As they spoke they moved from sitting to lying down, eventually quietly conversing while tucked into their beds. Then their final sentences taped off. The pair fell asleep.
Awareness returned slowly. Marx was dimly aware of being comfortably warm, then of being in utter blackness. He could see himself faintly, but nothing else. It occurred to him that a dream in the dark should be scary, but he couldn't bring himself to feel any fear. After all, it was only a dream, even if knowing that was odd.
The blackness turned out to be somewhat boring, despite how comfortable it was. Perhaps he could do something about it? He tried to create something, anything. A small fire, a ball, some dirt. But nothing came. The idea pressed against the edge of materialization without passing through. He heard something laugh faintly in the distance.
A single star flickered to life above him. Then another, and another. They came alive faster and faster, dotting the new skies with a gentle glow. The stars were both above and below, some closer than others. A purple glow came from the space beneath him and the top lightened to a navy blue. Everything was wonderfully peaceful, and Marx began to float in circles to enjoy the celestial view.
He slowed to a halt against his own will. A large, star-spangled sphere appeared in front of him, spinning gently. It appeared to be a smaller version of the space around him. A pleasant laugh emitted from it.
“Hello there, Marx.”
Marx whirled around, looking for the voice. The sphere laughed. “Over here, friend. The star ball.”
Marx turned back. “You're a person?”
“What's your name?”
“You may call me whatever you like.”
“Okay then…..what are you?”
“I'm a magician of dreams. The only one, in fact, and I have chosen you as an apprentice. Out of every student in this academy, I have chosen only the most worthy to learn my skills and grow into a powerful mage. I know of abilities your teachers have never seen in their lives. Would you like to learn them?”
Marx floated, speechless. A powerful mage wanted to teach him. A powerful mage who thought he was the most worthy person here. “Of course…”
“I only ask that you keep my visits a secret. I worry the others may mock you or disbelieve you.”
“That's all they ever do.”
“Such is the price of talent.” The sphere made a sound like a throaty chuckle. “Still, it would not do to encourage them further. Annoyances will only distract you from your studies.”
“Can I tell Magolor? He's never treated me like the others.”
“You'll understand when you awaken again. For now, focus on here. Decide what to call me, so our visits may flow more smoothly.”
Bossy, isn't he? “Would boss work? You seem like the type.”
“It will work wonderfully.” Boss caught the jab hidden in the name, but elected to ignore it. The title would become sincere soon enough. “However, I shall take my leave for the night. You will need your rest, and I have one other visit to make. I will return to you tomorrow night. Make sure to be asleep before 10pm.”
“I will.” Marx seemed almost disappointed that the visit had been so short. Good, Boss thought to himself. An easy catch.
“Then I shall take my leave. Good night, Marx.”
“Good night, boss.”
The sphere faded out of existence and the stars began to blink out one by one as the light faded. Soon Marx found himself in the same blackness from before. He felt his consciousness slipping away and reawakened in dreams of his own making.
Marx woke up yet again, this time to the orange glow of dawn. He felt strangely invigorated, fully awake in a way he hadn't been since childhood. He didn't have to convince himself to leave his bed, and even half-made it before climbing down. Magolor had woken up as well, looking at the bars supporting the top bunk.
“You're up early.”
“Yeah. Had a really weird dream, though. Some weird space ball kept trying to get me to give them a name? And--”
“Purple and blue?”
Magolor sat up. “He was! And he said he wanted me as an apprentice.”
“Both of us? Why both of us?”
“You had the same dream?” Magolor's brow furrowed.
“I think so. He wanted me to give him a name, and told me he knew more than any of our professors.”
“If we both had the same dream…maybe it could be real? What are the odds of us having the same dream of the same random person? Unless it's part of a lesson, somehow? Maybe everyone got it.”
“Mind manipulation is forbidden here, Mags. You know that. It has to be someone else. Besides, I don't think any of the teachers here even know how to do that.”
“Guess we're going to bed at 10 tonight, then, to find out.” Magolor pulled back the covers and stood, hunting around his desk for his bow tie.
“He said before ten. Better make it nine so we have time to get to sleep. Maybe we could make a remedy potion, just to make sure?”
“The ones for insomnia? We'd be out cold in a few minutes. Only issue is finding the time to get out to town so we can buy the ingredients.” Technically it would be Magolor buying the ingredients, as Marx rarely had any money, but he preferred to say “we”. Marx didn't have the benefit of an allowance the way he did. They shared most things nowadays anyway.
“It's Frissaday, Mags. We can leave whenever.”
A brief glance at the wall calendar proved it. There would be no need for the bowtie after all. “Oh. So it is. Well, that's convenient. Maybe he knew we'd need the time and was polite enough to make sure he showed up before our day off! What a nice guy!”
“Well we'd better get up and make use of it, then. Get dressed already dude.” Marx, being a puff, didn't exactly need clothes, but he wore a red clip-on bow tie for fun.
“I'm trying! My cloak is missing again.”
“It's on the closet floor with your hood, right where you left it after laundry day. Probably all wrinkled up now.”
“Oh! Found it! Thanks. It doesn't wrinkle, though. It's too thick for that.” He changed as quickly as he could, tugging the collar of his cloak in place and closing the buckle. “All right, all ready. Let's go!”
The walk to town was uneventful. A quiet forest path lined with skinny trees led into a small, bustling area lined with boutiques and supply stores. Halsatz was a small town, and most of its economy came from the academy it bordered. Students had been making the trek for years to pick up supplies and snacks. They were often seen patronizing the family restaurants and cafes scattered around the main street as well. Marx, having previously been friendless and currently broke ( as his bi-weekly stipend almost always went towards his studies) only cared about two places in town. The bookstore was one of them, being the sort of shop that ended up being a library with a permanent checkout. It was large and maze-like, with a passive staff, meaning he could read for hours undisturbed. If he managed to find a particularly good book, he'd end up taking it home with him.
The other place was the apothecary. Though it had been originally built for medical purposes, it had expanded rapidly after the founding of the academy, selling more and more until it had essentially become a magical general store. This was where the pair would go to find their ingredients.
A small bell jingled as the door opened inwards, colliding softly with a thick burlap bag of yellow pellets. The heavy smell hit them first. A pungent odor permeated the place, the sort of scent that couldn't be described as anything other than “magic shop.” Magolor pulled his cloak more tightly over his mouth. Marx breathed in deeply, pulling the scent towards the roof of his mouth. “You learn to like it.” He gently took Magolor's hand and pulled him between the aisles of low shelves.
The entire store was dim, lit only by a few tallow candles. It didn't take the two long to find what they needed. Small sacks of powder and herbs in hand, they turned together towards the checkout--and were immediately knocked to the floor, sending a bag of dried bluish seeds to the ground.
“Oh! I am so sorry! I didn't see you there! Here, let me get that for you.” A tall, thin blue woman with long limbs and long fingers crouched to the ground, scooping the seeds back into the bag. Unbeknownst to the pair, she had also added a light powdering of something else. Refolding the bag, she straightened, turned back to them, and held it out. “Here you go! I got them all picked up for you. Sorry again for running into you. It's a bit hard to see in this store, what with the low light.”
Marx seemed quietly furious, but Magolor placed a hand on his side, cooling him down. “Thank you, ma'am. It's all right.” She smiled and nodded, leaving the store quickly. Once she had turned away from them, her smile became a smirk. Her job was done.
The pair went up to pay, Magolor slipping a large wad of bills from his wallet and handing the clerk exact change. They began to rush home the second they were outside. Nothing was more important to them in that moment than creating the potion and proving to themselves that what they had dreamt of existed.
Marx wriggled underneath the bunk beds the second they returned. He retrieved a small leather case. It contained basic equipment for potion brewing: a mortar and pestle, a few beakers, test tubes, tongs, measuring tools, and a magically-powered hot plate. He arranged the necessary items on his desk while Magolor measured out the proper ingredients.
The potion was very simple, taking only a half hour to complete. Their work resulted in a shimmering blue potion, thick and moving on its own only slightly. Marx took the beaker from the heat and poured the liquid evenly into two small cups. He then gave one cup to Magolor, who set it on the bedside table.
“Letting them sit isn't going to improve the flavor, unfortunately: but we need to wait until nine on the dot. It should begin working at the five minute mark.”
“Isn't that a bit early? He said ten. Maybe we should try for 9:30 instead.”
Marx thought about it for a moment. “All right, sure. 9:30. Got a while until then, though, so we should probably go eat or something.”
“It's that weird green-grey stuff again. We should've headed to the café while we were out.” Magolor made a face. “I still don't understand how you can eat it.”
“Eh. It's familiar. Kinda like chewing mint.”
“More like chewing cud that's already been through a couple times.”
“Is that what you're doing behind your collar all day?” Magolor responded with a sharp laugh before tipping back onto the bed and giggling. Marx set his own vial down before squashing himself towards the floor, wiggling slightly. A small moment of tension. Then he burst upwards, landing on his roommate with his full weight. Marx weighed very little, but it was still enough to force a small “Oof!” from Magolor. He grabbed the puff with both hands and rolled, squishing Marx beneath him. Marx wriggled and pushed, but Magolor didn't budge.
“Get off me!”
Magolor's face curled into a laugh. “No!”
Marx's eyes grew wider, gaining a new sparkle they hadn’t had previously. “Pretty please?”
“Are you really trying that? I'm immune to The Eyes.”
“No you aren't…” The saccharine voice continued.
“Oh yes I am!” Magolor changed his voice to match, mocking slightly. He dropped his face forward, forehead colliding gently with Marx's own. “Bonk!”
Marx took his chance and immediately stuck his tongue out. Magolor recoiled as soon as he spotted it, moving back into a standing position. “Don't lick me!”
The puff smirked. “Works every time.”
“That's not fair!”
“Neither is lying on top of someone smaller than you. Now come on Mags, we're going to be late!” He scooted off the bed, grabbed Magolor's hand, and began to lead him out the door. Magolor gripped right back.
After a quick breakfast, the two spent the rest of the day wandering around the campus and the nearby forest, chattering up a storm and occasionally breaking into a run. Lunchtime came and went, the pair choosing to snack and get back to running. By the time dinner approached, they were running low on steam.
“Maybe we won't need those potions after all. I think I'm going to pass out the second I hit the pillow.” Magolor pushed his collar back up, making a small effort to seem less disheveled. If he had feet, they would be dragging.
The pair of feet making soft prints in the dust beside him were definitely dragging. Marx plodded slowly beside his roommate. Even his bowtie seemed to be drooping. “We should still drink them,just in case. And we did go through all that trouble.”
“Mm. True, but food first.” The conversation ended as he pushed open the thick door that led to the dining hall. The two kept their dinner short, intentionally choosing warm, heavy foods that would make them feel drowsier.
By the time 8:30 rolled around, they were practically dragging themselves up the stairs. The pair weren't athletes by any means. Their decision to run around all day had given them muscle aches and an all-encompassing desire to lie down. They sat on Magolor's bed, slouched against the wall. Neither of them wanted to move, so they began slowly mumbling about mundane things to keep themselves awake. When the clock hit 9:30, Marx scooted lethargically across the sheets and pulled the two cups from the table.
“On the count of three.” They tossed the blue slime back in sync, then sat swaying for a matter of seconds before collapsing over each other in a pile.
The two awoke in a new place that was seemingly at odds with itself. The sky surrounded them, spangled richly with stars and painted with brightly colored blue nebulae. The remnants of a pale rose floor stretched beneath them. Tiles fell away endlessly, but the floor never seemed to grow smaller. Translucent, prismatic polyhedrons with hexagonal faces floated in the air, rotating slowly while changing color. There seemed to be something fluffy and indistinct in each one. Above and below them, opaque navy pyramids seemed to roll forward on nothing, moving face by face. A golden light seemed to be trying desperately to force itself through the seams of the pyramid, causing each one to vibrate and rumble. Dark blue-grey clouds rolled through the area, warm and inviting.
It was only after spending close to a minute staring at the scene before them that they realized they were both there. Silently, they floated nearer to each other. Sharing a dream didn't alarm them, nor did it confuse them. There would be no time for either. A familiar sphere floated into view.
“Your minds are beautiful together. So intricate. You shall make fine students. So punctual, even early. The potion was an act of commitment to your education, and to me, and I appreciate it greatly.” The voice was slow and warm, sourceless but bursting with pride. The ghost of a hand brushed across their heads, warm, soft, comfortable. It left pleasant tingles in its wake. Magolor stiffened slightly at the first touch. Marx started only slightly before relaxing again.
This place and their teacher were light and ethereal. Boss’ voice was gentle and smooth as he guided them through their first lesson, simple pointers on gathering of magical energy from the ambient power of the environment and then utilizing it efficiently. This was the first thing any magic student would learn, but Boss seemed to understand it more than the teachers in their waking world. Any apprehension between the three disappeared quickly, replaced with the joy of learning new skills.
Boss stayed near them the entire time, teaching them what to think about, how to position themselves, what areas were best for gathering, and what species held the most untapped power. Every success was quickly met with droplets of praise. Hard-won breakthroughs earned them a hearty pat to the back. Try as they might, neither of them could see the thing touching them, but every bit of praise made the centers of the polyhedrons swell and glow with pink light. The pyramids responded with stillness and an intense glow.
The three worked for a while, practicing until both students could pull enormous volumes of simulated magic from the environment. They were permitted to take a break, moving off to investigate their surroundings as Boss watched. Each of them had taken one of the other's constructs. They sat near each other, comparing their shapes and trying to pry them open.
Both constructs flew upwards and out of reach. “That would be inadvisable. We can attempt that later, during another lesson. For now I am going to have to take my leave, as are you.”
“Already? It feels like we just got here….” Marx seemed to droop bit, still staring longingly after his confiscated piece of Magolor's mind.
“We have to wake up at some point, Marx.” Magolor had simply turned his attention to making swirls in piles of magic he had collected and turned into fluff. If he wasn't supposed to open the shapes yet, he'd be able to later.
“Correct. Though I am flattered that you wish to stay for more than a night, you must awaken so you may sleep again. Come here.” The impression of a hand gently nudged them both towards the starry orb. They floated over without much fear.
To their surprise, they were both pushed flush with the orb and held there tightly. It gave way softly and seemed to almost purr. “I'm so glad.” It said simply. The hands hugging them began to lift instead, cupping them each in an invisible palm before nestling them next to each other in a dark cloud. They heard a faint goodbye, then felt a warm nothing.
Warm nothing became a warm something. A slight weight rested on Magolor's abdomen, breathing quietly. Early morning had come once again, grey and heavy. He felt as if he hadn't left the cloud he fell awake in, and he had no desire to get up. Every bit of bedding had contoured perfectly to him, his roommate had curled up to him peacefully, and they had nothing at all to do today. Magolor's fate was sealed.
He spent the next hour in absolute peace. No one moved, not even as rain began to pat gently on the window. Thunder rumbled calmly in the distance and lulled Magolor into a drifting warmth, hovering on the edge of sleep. His thoughts slipped from place to place, nonsensical and easy.
When Marx came to, he saw Magolor above him, eyes closed and serene. He shut his eyes and drifted back downwards. In the end, the only thing that convinced them to get up was hunger. Magolor gently nudged Marx, who reluctantly moved. The rest of the day passed in quiet excitement. Bedtime had become more interesting than anything else the day had to offer them.
"Good evening. How were your classes?" Boss already knew, of course. His students' faces were subdued, a far cry from their usual bursting enthusiasm.
"It was fine." The pair spoke simultaneously, their tones a bit strained and nearly the same. Interesting. Boss tucked that detail away for later.
"I can tell something's happened. Not sharing is acceptable, but please do not lie." He kept his tone gentle but inquisitive. "Did someone do something to you?"
Magolor chose to speak up. "There's this girl in some of our classes who keeps using her own straw to jab us in the back when we're not looking. She even does it in the hall."
"Her straw? A Broom Hatter, I presume?"
Even the mention of her had Marx fuming. "Yeah. She's terrible! She pops her gum and never shuts up about whatever stupid thing she did yesterday!"
"Hmm…" Boss pretended to ponder something for a few moments, then spoke. "I may be able to assist you. Would you like to learn about false-fire?"
Green flames tore across the girl's straw as she screamed in terror and pain. The two watched from the opposite side of their table as her edges blackened, smoke rising from her left arm. Everyone near her had backed away, the professor pulling the fire extinguisher from the wall.
The flames disappeared on their own before the teacher pulled the nozzle free. The broom hatter girl stared in disbelief at her own arm, perfect and golden. Nothing remained, not even a trace of smoke. In the following days, the girl would become a model pupil, staying as still and quiet as possible in class and treating the lab equipment with the utmost care.
"Fear, you see, is a useful tool. The occasional illusion or display of power can be enough to drive enemies back or to even avoid a fight altogether. You did very well today. May I assume that no one else has interfered with your schooling?"
"No one at all! We're actually faster now so we can get to bed on time."
"Strange, then, that you've been late to bed the last few sessions. Are you losing interest?"
Marx's eyes widened. "N-no, not at all! We just have trouble sleeping sometimes when there's a lot of noise next door. We're trying really hard, we promise!"
"I understand, but punctuality is a virtue. It is impolite to expect a meeting and leave someone waiting." A subtle displeasure crept into Boss's voice.
"We can fix it, can't we Marx? We can make more sleeping potions! That way nothing can keep us awake!"
Boss laughed internally.
The last day of each week became shopping day. A time normally used for relaxing became a time for brewing a week's worth of sleeping potions. The employees of the apothecary came to know them by name. They were never late again.
Every night brought new information. It took them mere days to learn techniques that would typically take weeks to master. Boss showered them with praise and encouragement. The top bunk gathered dust.
Their sudden, rapid advancement wasn't always met positively. Rumors grew amongst those who knew the pair. They were abusing potions or creating illusions. A few students declared that they were secret warlocks. They were putting out too much energy, sometimes even to the point of generating an area effect. They were louder now and strode through the halls with a confidence they had lacked before. One classmate claimed he saw Marx leaning against nonexistent surfaces and pushing himself upwards for no reason at all.
Chapter 3: Pendants and Paranoia
A school-wide presentation in the auditorium was guaranteed to be something simple and boring. They happened once or twice a trimester, and were almost always about something that no one cared about. A mandatory lecture on the importance of following safety rules, for example, or some guest researcher's pet subject. The presenters would drone on and on until the student body fell asleep.
Crowds of students filed down the aisles, forming clusters of friends in the seats. Marx and Magolor tucked themselves into the back corner furthest from the stage. More and more students filed in, turning the auditorium black with cloaked figures. A hum reverberated around the room as students spoke to each other.
The headmaster walked onstage, taking his place in the center. Behind him a projector screen unfurled and stretched itself taut.
"Good morning, everyone. This trimester's presentation is going to be on safety." A few loud sighs were heard and ignored. "More specifically, it's going to be about spirits and their warlocks. You will learn how to identify them and how to defend yourself. Be sure to pay attention. This information could save not only you, but your fellow mages as well." He drew a long, ornate wooden wand from his beard with a flourish and tapped it against the screen.
It rippled to life, colors flowing across the surface and sinking into their assigned places. The new image depicted a wizened wizard, long of tooth in the literal sense. He hunched over, gesturing invitingly towards the viewer with a menacing smile.
"I'm certain many of you already know about warlocks and the threat they pose. For those of you who don't, be warned. Warlocks are wizards who, in lieu of practice, have made a bargain with a spirit for magical power." A tap of the wand switched the screen to an image of a purple, smoking mass with a single enormous eye. The wizard from the previous slide knelt before it in supplication.
"The spirit will lend strength to their warlock in exchange for something they desire, usually the completion of specific tasks or worship in some form. Oftentimes these two duties are mixed together. Worship increases their magical power, while the warlock's dedication to enacting the spirit's will gives the spirit influence on the physical plane. While this may seem to be an ideal arrangement for both parties, the reality is that the warlock becomes a bearer of evil for those around them. A simple beneficial relationship soon turns into a reliance on their spirit for power, and the tasks given become more terrible as time continues. Mundane requests become stealing, then arson, then poisonings. The life of the warlock ceases to exist beyond their need to serve. If their spirit wishes it, they will even begin to recruit others into its service." Another tap revealed a bulleted list.
"If you are ever confronted by another mage who wants you to come with them, take note of their behavior and appearance. There are many signs to watch out for. They may want you to follow them and meet someone, but be unwilling to specify who the person is. Never follow anyone who isn't forthright about their motives." The headmaster paused to adjust his hat.
"They may have physical features that are unusual for their species. They may have horns, a tail, or extra fingers. They may have strange markings resembling ornate scars, unknown symbols, or skin not belonging to their species. Extra eyes should be viewed with extreme caution. They may mutter to themselves while looking in a specific direction, fall into sudden fits of laughter, talk to themselves, or move in an irregular manner. These behaviors are only suspect when present with other signs, however, as many mages behave unusually for harmless reasons." Another tap revealed another list.
"If you should come across any person who you believe to be a warlock, take the following steps. The first step is to give absolutely no indication that you suspect them of being a warlock, or that you know they're trying to recruit you. Do not panic. Many warlocks are quick to prey on weakness, and may use your distress as a way to trick you or as an excuse to take you. They can be very manipulative if they wish to be, twisting your words and making seemingly innocuous arguments in bad faith in order to convince you to give their way a try. Politely decline any offers they make and leave as soon as you are able.
"When you're safe, find a trusted older mage and tell them about your encounter. Otherwise contact the local magical authority. They'll retrieve the warlock and help them remove their spiritual attachment." The next slide showed a multi-colored array of creatures and blobs, teeth, eyes, and patterns of all sorts divvied up between them seemingly at random. The audience stared silently, a tension coming over the room.
The headmaster cleared his throat and took a sip of water from a small bottle on the edge of a nearby stool. "Now, on the matter of spirits. Much focus is put upon warlocks, but they are merely the victims of a hidden blight. The true threat is the spirits themselves. They can appear in any form and behave in any manner. The crudest, weakest ones reported commonly resort to threats and terror. The most dangerous ones are like spiders in a parlor, creating an inviting environment so you don't notice the web they've spun around you. Many warlocks have no idea of their own status, believing themselves to simply be the friend of a strange and helpful entity. Some believe they have been chosen by a god, while a few particularly unlucky mages believe that a dead family member is helping them from the afterlife."
"The average spirit doesn't care whatsoever for its mage. They are sapient masses of pure magical energy, concerned only with the acquisition of power. For every warlock there are a dozen infested magic-imbued items. It, like most creatures, wants simply to eat and grow. If you are approached by a spirit, beware. Most spirits confident enough to approach a mage and offer them their own energy are far from weak and unlikely to be foolish. If a spirit approaches you, tell someone immediately. It doesn't matter if it came to you in a dream, in broad daylight, in the dark of night, if you never saw it, or if you saw it while you were high."
The headmaster paused to give the students time to laugh, as they did every time he gave this presentation. Giggles rippled around the auditorium, the only sound that had come from the audience in the past half hour. Once they had died down, he continued. "Tell someone. Tell someone about anything and everything unusual you encounter. It's better to have a dozen false positives than a dozen warlocks. It's better to wrongly report the odd man you met than it is to leave a fellow mage under a spirit's control. If you stay alert and remain wary you may be able to protect yourself and others from the greatest threat ever faced by mages."
The screen flashed off and the lights came up as the students began polite applause. The headmaster took a small bow, then walked off the stage, taking the stool and bottle with him. The crowds reformed and began to file out, talking and laughing with each other.
Magolor sat stock still in his seat. Marx had already gotten up, pushing a hand behind him to help Magolor stand as well. The continued emptiness of his hand prompted him to turn around.
"Mags, the presentation's over. Let's go."
Magolor didn't move. "Marx, do you think…?" His voice quavered.
"Of course not. We're not stupid."
"But he said--"
"Mags, it's okay. We can discuss it in our room, all right?" He extended his hand again. "Come on." After a moment more, Magolor took the offered hand and allowed himself to be guided out of the auditorium. Their classmates monitored their walk more closely than usual.
Magolor's silence ended the second the door closed behind them. "I think Boss is a spirit! It all lines up! He's big and powerful, he's really nice, he compliments us all the time, he made that cool dream space for us, everything! He's going to make us crazy! We have to tell someone!" He was nearly yelling, eyes wild with anxiety.
"Not so loud! These walls aren't thick!" Marx sounded nearly as frantic as Magolor did. He took a slow breath. "Look. He's not a spirit. There's no way he could be one. Think about it. He's never asked us to do anything and he's never given us any power. He's only ever taught us how to get it ourselves. He said it himself. He's only a teacher. And since when is being nice a crime? Or being honest?"
Magolor paused, thinking. "Well. Yes, all that's true, but...what if we're just not there yet? What if it's still early on and the tasks and worship stuff come later? What if he only taught us how to gather power so he can take it secretly? Maybe that's why he always hugs us..maybe--"
"Mags. It's been weeks. He would've done it by now. But he still hasn't asked anything of us. And he hugs us because he likes us and we do a good job! Boss wouldn't hurt us, we're his students! Teachers don't do that. I bet we can ask him about spirits when we go to bed and he'll tell us stuff no one else even knows about them! That'll prove it! A spirit would never tell us about his species. It'd be giving us ways to get away and destroy them!"
"That does make sense…" Magolor's brow furrowed. "But what if he wants us to think that, or he lies…"
"Name one thing he's lied about."
"You're right…I'm probably making connections where there are none again." He grimaced.
"At least you're vigilant like they said to be! Spirits will never get us with you around." Marx gave him a couple of reassuring pats on the back.
"I just don't want you getting hurt." Magolor slipped his hand into Marx's, pulling him gently towards the door. "Let's go get some food before bed. We can ask him later like you said."
The familiar weightless floating had engulfed the two once again. By now they were used to sharing dreams, and waited patiently for the landscape and their mentor to appear.
"Greetings. How are my favorites doing on this fine night?"
"Oh it's...we're doing all right." Magolor responded a bit too quickly to be natural. Both of them had their eyes glued to the floor.
"Say, Boss, is it all right if we ask you a question?"
The orb rolled forward through the air. "Hmm? Of course you may. I am here to teach."
Magolor began to speak. "Ca--can.." The words caught in his throat and his eyes began to drill into the floor. Marx finished for him. "Can you tell us about spirits? We had to go to a presentation about warlocks and spirits today and we're uh, curious. Yeah."
"An interesting question. Of course I'll answer it. I'm assuming you've already been told how to protect yourself from them, so I'll move to more interesting topics." Hands nudged the two of them into sitting positions in the clouds.
"A spirit is a collection of magical energy that has grown strong enough to reach sentience. They occur when raw energy has been gathered and left unused for a long period of time. If a magical item is enchanted improperly and some of the magic remains unpurposed, it will find one for itself. In rare cases the emotions and thoughts of a local population may stir up small amounts of ambient magic until it coalesces into a living form. A spirit, put simply, is magic that has found a will of its own. Usually it desires cruelty and power, but I have seen a few choose their hosts out of a sense of altruism. Not all warlocks have been mages. Some of them don't have enough magic to float a feather, but were chosen anyways, merely because they were in need of assistance."
"But then how would the spirit eat?" Marx seemed puzzled.
"Anyone can worship. Spirits who choose to help usually only demand enough to maintain their size. Of course, they're still destroyed with the rest once they're discovered." Boss made sure to pitch his voice down forlornly at the end.
"But why? If they're good they aren't hurting anyone, right?"
"Mage authorities see spirits as something of an addictive plague. A bacterium is a bacterium, even if it proves beneficial. Biologists know that some bacteria are good, but the general populace thinks of them as pests. Unfortunately magical studies are often hindered by the status quo. What you were taught by your headmaster today has been taught to generations of mages."
"What's your real name?"
"It's a secret. When I attended this school I was...less than beloved. I didn't want to tell you as a precaution, in case you two turned out to be loose-lipped, but it's been a while, and I haven't heard a single peep around the campus about my existence."
"You can hear around the school? How?" Magolor’s head tilted to the side.
"I have my ways. I like to keep eyes and ears on things. Helps me find students to help and...perhaps I have a bit of an eavesdropping problem when it comes to my old professors. My listening proved you both to be trustworthy enough." The sphere spun a bit faster, its internal shimmer twinkling a bit more than usual. "My name is Dr. N. Emeritus."
The two sat in excited silence before Magolor blurted "Are you a ball in real life too?" Marx shushed him quickly, hissing his name in embarrassment.
Boss chuckled. Magolor felt a warm weight settle between his ears and pat him. "Yes and no. My species is rare and a bit unusual. I don't even know what I am. I lack a family to tell me."
"Oh...sorry." He looked down, embarrassed, but the weight didn't leave.
"Don't be. There's nothing wrong with curiosity. You both may feel free to ask me any questions that may come into your minds."
"Anything at all."
Magolor fiddled with the edge of his cloak, weighing his options. He could, but it might ruin things forever. Marx would be upset and they'd lose a good friend. Everything would go away. Or maybe it wouldn't, but if it did, wouldn't that be a good outcome too? If turned out to be one, and he left, they'd be safe again. Unless he sent someone after them? But the teachers could protect them. But if he didn't, they'd never know the truth and then they'd get trapped.
"Are you, um. A...um a--a warlock?" The fabric of his cloak wrinkled in his fists as the question squeaked from him. He stared intently into the cloud he sat on. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut. The hand resting atop his head slid to the side, a thumb running up the side of his ear repeatedly in a way that almost made him trill. It was an old gesture of comfort in his family.
"All of my power comes from years of work, and only the most impressive of spirits could even attempt to defeat me. You are both under my protection, and I will see to it that no harm comes to either of you." Boss's invisible hand now supported Magolor, who leaned against it without a care in the world. He seemed almost asleep despite the fact that he was already dreaming. "You can trust me just as I trust you."
The rest of the night passed a tad more quietly than usual, with quiet, friendly conversation between the three. Marx showed Boss his progress in a newer technique they had been learning. Boss gave him a few new pointers and he moved a short distance away in order to practice.
Magolor sat nearly beneath Boss, still leaning against the hand but wide awake once more. He fiddled with one of the polyhedrons again while Boss watched over him and murmured hints in his ear. The shapes that floated through the air were fascinating to him. He wanted desperately to pull one apart and investigate the inside. It wasn't often he was permitted to actually touch one. There was something comforting and familiar about them, like a favorite childhood toy, but at the same time they were wonderfully exciting.
"Be very careful. It is a delicate container, and necessary as well. Do not break it."
"I can't get in. There's a few little seams here, but I'm not able to get my fingers in there at all."
"Hmm. May I assist? You may simply require the correct tools."
"What do you mean?"
"Give me your hand and I will show you. Trust me."
Magolor set the polyhedron carefully on the ground. Hesitantly, he extended his right hand upwards towards Boss.
"Ready?" Magolor nooded, and a twisting, electric tingle curled over his skin. His dark palms grew even darker, his fingertips lengthening into flat, sharp black claws. Boss completed the change in a matter of seconds. "Try it again."
Magolor stared blankly at his hand, turning it over and bending his fingers. Boss tapped him on the head. "Focus. Try opening it again. I expect you will have an easier time now that your hand has been improved."
The mage's attention turned back to the shape sitting in his lap. Lifting it up once more, he pushed his new claws against a seam. They slid in effortlessly. Magolor stiffened his fingertips and angled his hand downwards, prying the polyhedrons open with a small pop. He immediately brought the hole to his eye.
The indistinct fluff within the shape rushed out all at once, covering him entirely in a lavender mist. A very safe, familiar, warm mist that seemed to hold nothing but affection for him. It swirled playfully around him and he giggled, feeling it flap the edges of his cloak. Some of it spiraled upwards, tentatively making its way towards Boss. The smoke settled for moving around him in wobbly rings, making him look like a miniature planet.
A laser-sharp focus broke, replaced with a strange and sudden sense of longing. Marx looked up for the first time in an hour and was greeted with the sight of lavender. An open, empty polyhedron was lying next to Magolor. He and Boss were both fiddling around with the mist, watching as it curled around them.
Dropping his magic, Marx made his way to one of the pyramids slowly rolling around the dream. He held it carefully to his chest and made his way towards the other two. Spikes formed in the mist and pointed directly at him. Marx stopped in his tracks. "What?" He took a step forward and the pikes grew towards him. Every time he tried to come near, the spikes would grow longer,jabbing outwards quickly. They formed a towering wall that curved over him, concealing his friends from sight defensively.
"That will be enough of that." Boss gathered the mist into a small ball and slipped it back into the polyhedron, using the removed face to cap it and placing it back into the air. A strange and sudden loneliness permeated Magolor's chest. He was sorely in need of a hug, but chose to nestle himself further into the hand behind him. Fingers curled around him.
"Do you believe you can open that contraption, Marx?"
"Sure! Lemme give it a shot." Marx sat in the clouds about a meter away from Magolor and began to turn the pyramid over in his paws, investigating the entire surface. His fingers fit into the gaps easily, but the faces refused to budge from their position no matter how hard he pulled. He tried sliding one sideways, then tried pushing it inwards. Nothing worked.
"Can I see it?" Magolor had scooted a bit closer, holding out his hand.
"Why not? It's not like it'll do anything." Marx tossed the pyramid towards hin, scowling with frustration.
Magolor held the pyramid away from his face, overwhelmed by the light he had released. He handed it back to Marx. A golden current swirled outwards, glowing brightly, curling its way around the area like ink in water. It felt like satin and static electricity. The gold wrapped around Marx without hesitation, but moved far more tentatively around Boss, moving towards and away from him like a shy animal. It drifted around Magolor, having no reaction to him at all. He ran his clawed fingers through it and the gold seemed to flinch.
"How come you could open it?"
"For the very same reason you can open the polyhedrons. I will leave that answer for you to discover, however."
The rest of their time was spent fiddling with the strange shapes and practicing a few skills. The pair would awaken with their suspicions completely soothed.
And for a while, things were comfortable again. Days flowed into each other easily, lulling them into a pleasant routine. Marx was lying on the bed working on a puzzle while Magolor studied at his desk. Neither spoke, leaving the comfortable silence in the room where it was. It dissipated with an unexpected knock on the door.
Marx rolled off of the bed and went to the door, opening it to reveal a tall, thin, familiar woman. He couldn't place her face exactly, but he had seen her somewhere...
Magolor’s memory was, for once, a bit better. "Oh! The lady we bumped into in the apothecary a few months ago! Hello again ma'am!" He waved to her from his desk.
"How did you get into the dorms? ...And how did you know where we live? What's going on here?" The door began to creep shut. Marx stared up at the strange guest, eyes narrowed.
"I'm with Mr.Emeritus. He has requested I make a delivery to the two of you. As for how? You'll find that I am very quiet when I wish to be." Her smile was small and polite, not reaching her eyes.
"A delivery? What for?" Magolor had now turned fully around in his seat, curious to see what she had in store.
"Little gifts, he said. I'm not certain what they are myself." She handed the box down to Marx, who took it in one glove delicately. "He seems to be rather fond of you two." Her grin grew warmer. Marx flushed a bit. "I'll be off now, dears. Take care!" There was a quiet swish, then no sign of her anywhere.
"Where'd she go?" Magolor seemed puzzled.
"I have no idea." Marx peered up and down the hallway before closing the door and relocking it. "Maybe she's his personal courier or something like that. She's pretty fast!"
“Those are expensive. Maybe she’s just a friend of his?”
Homework abandoned, Magolor scooted from his chair and took the box from Marx's paws. "I wonder what he sent us? Must be important if he risked sending something to us in real life." Setting the box down on his desk, he used his pen to undo the tape holding the flaps of the box together.
Inside the box were a pair of dark wooden boxes, seemingly without hinges or clasps. Each box was engraved with one of their names. Magolor pulled them out, handing Marx his box before opening his own.
Inside the box was a necklace. A dark red stone laid into an ornate golden socket formed the pendant. It hung on a thick, beaded chain that ended in a lobster claw clasp. Both gifts fit around their recipients perfectly.
"They're beautiful…" Magolor ran his finger over the surface of the gem. It seemed to shimmer slightly, light reflecting beautifully off of its smooth, round surface. "And warm...weird. Maybe they're enchanted."
"Knowing Boss? They're definitely enchanted. I wonder what they do?" Marx stared at his own, playing with the chain. "I guess we'll have to ask him when we go to sleep again. Probably just an enchantment to keep it warm before it touches bare skin, though."
“Hmm. Unless they’re for something else? Maybe they’re for a lesson, or a new skill we’re going to learn.” Magolor returned to his desk and picked up his pen.
The next morning brought trouble. Boss had informed them during the night that the necklaces were a gift to commemorate “half a year of learning”, as he had put it. So, of course, the two wore them to class. They were very nice gifts, after all, and it would be rude to leave them unused (especially while knowing that he could see them). They had a wonderful teacher and the necklaces were a lovely reminder of that fact. Neither of them seemed to be able to think about anything but their boss.
Unfortunately, neither of them had taken the time to think of the potential consequences, like the consequences of wearing ornate matching necklaces in public after rapidly gaining massive amounts of magical skill. People were watching again. Students were standoffish and wary, keeping to the edges of the halls and not speaking to either of them.
"I told you," one student whispered to the other, "I told you they were. Everyone could tell and now here's the proof! They'll be handing out pamphlets next." Magolor turned and glared, scaring them into silence. The whispers in the halls created an oppressive air that weighed on them heavily. Marx pressed closer to Magolor, feet moving briskly in the direction of their class.
The classroom proved no better. The professor watched them too closely and the other students were scooting further away. When papers were handed back they ended up being nearly thrown to them from a foot away. After class a strange teenager in dark makeup asked them about their "dark spirit work".
Marx stomped right in front of her, startling her. "We are not working with spirits! We're not fucking warlocks and I'm sick of you people treating us like we're poisonous! We're just better than you, okay! Get it through your thick skulls!"
The hallway had gone completely silent. Several students had stopped in their tracks to watch Marx's public tantrum. The girl was quiet, hands bunched in her cape as she stared at the floor. Then the people around them began to laugh. It grew louder and louder, students cracking jokes and elbowing each other.
"Jeeze, Marx, we know you're not warlocks. What spirit would want you?" The burly simirror boy from before stepped out into the circle, gripping one of the girl's shoulders and leading her back into the throng. "All you ever do is whine about how you're so great and no one else understands how amazing and smart you are. You only have a friend because he's your roommate and he has to be."
"That's not true! Marx is smarter and nicer than any of you! You're just...just jerks!" Magolor's voice pitched upwards into an unwanted whine at the end.
"Oh nooooo, I'm a jerk! Whatever." He deposited the girl with her friends and began to leave. "At least I don't scream at a girl just asking me a question."
Marx lunged at the simirror's back with a shout, fire already curling from his glove. Magolor grabbed him by the collar just in time, but the simirror was already turning. "Oh? You want to fight me? Sure, I'll fight you. Just don't go running to the headmaster when I beat your ass." He reached into his cloak and pulled out a wand. A flurry of bright shapes burst towards Marx.
Marx pulled himself free of Magolor roughly and began to send back an attack of his own, not even bothering to counter the attack thrown at him. Fire burst from his gloves, rocketing towards his opponent.
They fizzled and died halfway there. He tried again to the same result. He tried orbs of light, arcs of electricity, and small stones to no avail. A pane of light struck him in the face.
"What happened to all that power, huh? Guess it was nothing after all." The simirror launched an overwhelming barrage of light that even the spectators had to move to avoid. Marx, trapped in the center, couldn't. Magolor's attempt to shield wouldn't materialize. They hit him like a semi truck made of glass shards.
Marx lay on his back, thoroughly battered. Students began to leave the scene, bored now that their source of entertainment was gone. Lunch was in a few minutes anyway. Magolor stayed, moving up close to Marx and looking him over.
Marx had dark purple bruises all over his face and arm. Tears of rage were leaking freely from the corners of his eyes. "Why didn't it work? Where'd my magic go?"
"Marx, we have to tell the he--"
"But why? They be--"
I said don't!" Magolor went silent. That was the first time he had heard Marx yell at him since they became friends. Marx looked away regretfully before his eyes slid back over to Magolor. "...Sorry."
"Let's just go home." Magolor pulled Marx to his feet and helped him back to their dorm and, to his bed. The necklace swung innocuously over his cloak.
Chapter 4: Ascent and Descent
time for the meat
That night's lesson was put off in favor of "a little break" as Boss put it. Marx had objected, of course, but Boss held firm. Instead his students were nestled in a downy, warm cloud while he floated feather-light above them. The lighting was warm and low. Thunder rumbled quietly in the distance. The cool air smelled of rain. Boss chose to keep his voice low.
"Now Marx, you know it is not your fault that happened. The others were the ones treating you poorly. You must not assign blame to the wrong party."
"If I hadn't been so useless, I wouldn't have been beaten!"
"If they were worth anything, they would understand not to fight you at all."
"But they did, and I lost. I was too weak to use my power when I actually needed it. It's pathetic." Marx had looked down, trying and failing to conceal the tears gathering in his eyes or the flush on his cheeks
"Come now, there's no need for any of that. We can make it better." Boss floated closer, nestling himself against Marx in an approximation of a hug. Warm, invisible hands squeezed him firmly. Marx was crying against Boss openly and angrily. Magolor had hugged him from behind, sandwiching him in.
"My darling students, I do believe the time has come for you to leave these fools behind." By now, Boss didn't even choke on the "darling". He was becoming frighteningly good at this sort of thing.
"What do you mean?" Marx had pulled back slightly to voice the question. His students looked up at him with such a delightful confusion that he was almost sad that this phase was ending.
"I mean that you're ready to graduate, so to speak. You have learned all you can at this school, and it is now time for the next phase of your apprenticeships. I would like for the two of you to come and study with me, so that I may instruct you more personally. Not all things can be taught in dreams."
"Y-you mean we get to meet you? For real?" Magolor's face had gone wide with surprise. Marx beamed with excitement, tears nearly forgotten.
"Yes, of course! You would be tutored by me personally. I only have one small request of you before you join me. It would aid us all greatly in the future and prevent some rather cruel people from gaining more power than they deserve to wield."
"Who? What are we doing?"
"I need the two of you to remove a few specific buildings on your campus. Namely the ones containing laboratories and testing theatres."
"Remove…as in make them disappear?" They both seemed confused.
"Remove as in disintegrate, burn, or simply blow up.If the buildings are destroyed, mages will be forced to stick to theory, preventing the cretins of your class from growing into the monsters they're destined to become."
"Isn't that illegal? And won't people..die?" Magolor twisted the bottom of his cape, having pulled himself free from the hug a bit before.
"No one will be harmed. As for the legality, I remind you that many just actions are illegal, and many unjust ones are legal. If you are stealthy enough, you may avoid repercussions all together. If any fool should try to prosecute you for doing right, I will simply spirit you away. I live in a hidden place accessible to only those I allow, and my protection stretches across the galaxy. No harm shall come to you under my care."
"So two buildings? That doesn't seem so bad. They're empty after midnight, too. The only issue is getting the supplies in without getting caught, and figuring out how to make enough in the first place." Marx had sat on the floor, mumbling seemingly to nobody as he thought his way through his plan.
"Argis powder, felmise roots, and magarn together produce a highly explosive substance that reacts to fire. Many use the ingredients for other, more mundane potions, so purchasing them in bulk should not arouse much suspicion."
"I thought that combination was easily extinguished?"
"Yes, in controlled situations, but the flames it creates will spread across even stone. It devours anything in seconds." Boss assuaged Marx's worries easily. They were all details of a job he had accepted almost without question. Magolor, on the other hand, was oddly silent. Magolor was usually much quieter than his companion, in Boss's experience, preferring to save his words for clever quips and curious questions. Normally by now he would be exploding with questions, wondering over every single detail and getting an exact checklist of what to do. This had the potential to become problematic, but there would be nothing to worry about as long as he followed Marx's lead.
The next morning Marx was up almost immediately, pulling Magolor out of bed with him and into the chilly air of early morning. They had shopping to do, the sooner the better. Ingredients piled up in their shared closet. They went in circles around the buildings, Marx watching the doors to see what locks were used and when people went in and out. Magolor followed behind quietly, seeing no way to escape what was frankly the most boring unethical behavior he'd ever been a part of. It was only when they made it to the eastern half of the campus that he figured out an out.
"Hey, Marx, I'm gonna go hang out in the library for a while, to uh...see if I can find any extra information that might help us? Yes."
Marx turned to him and grinned. "Good idea Mags. I've got it covered here." He turned back to the door he had been watching earlier. Magolor turned and walked away to the library.
Most students spent their days off outside or in town with their friends. The few that didn't were seated around tables in the library, scratching away quietly at homework that was most likely due very soon. Magolor buried himself in the shelves, moving deep into the library without paying attention to where he was going. Soon he found himself in the history section.
Most of the books in the library of a magic school were of course, dedicated to magic, and this section was no different. The history section took up two massive shelves that stretched up nearly to the second floor. Magolor slowed to a stroll as he read the titles.
A History of Magical Governmental Relations. No thank you. Head Mages, Years 1200-1300GS. Definitely not. Wands Through the Years. That'll do.
He pulled the perfectly adequate book from the shelf, ignoring the brief, uncomfortable prickling in the back of his mind. He then made his way towards the back of the library, settling into a wide armchair to read it. He had time to burn while pretending to be helping. Truth was, he couldn't think of anything better to do to help, and Marx's work was boring him to death. Hopefully his random choice of book would yield some fact that turned out to be useful. Maybe crafting a certain wand would allow them to intensify the flames?
The prickle came again, this time stronger. Fear flooded him, making him freeze with the book in his hands. He squeaked involuntarily, but luckily no one was around to hear. What was so terrifying? Magolor looked around the room. Nothing. He was anxious for no reason at all. He just had to calm down. He forced his breathing to slow and deepen.
He opened the book to the title page. The fear doubled, making him break into a cold sweat. Something was wrong with him. Or maybe some joker had enchanted his book. Well, he wasn't about to let some jerk get what they wanted from him. He turned to the table of contents, fear spiking the further he went. None of the chapter titles stood out to him in particular, so he turned to a random spot. Dull. A new spot. Boring. A series of illustrations caught his eye for a minute before he turned the page again.
He was greeted with the sight of one of the silliest wands he'd ever seen. A large, rounded star sat atop a simple rod like a barber's pole. It reminded him of a children's toy. So why couldn't he breathe?
Not wanting to seem strange, he forced himself to turn the page while he struggled to keep himself from bolting. Then he saw it.
"The Star Rod was created to combat one of the most powerful and dangerous spirits in all of the galaxy, a spirit known as Nightmare. It functions as a key, creating an inescapable prison when used in conjunction with a Fountain of Dreams."
Immediately beneath the short description was an ink illustration of an ornate fountain and a familiar sphere. The fear that had been tormenting him disappeared all at once, replaced with his own fear and the feeling that someone, somewhere, was bitterly disappointed in him. Magolor found that he couldn't care less about it in that moment. He had been right. He wasn't being paranoid after all!
And now Marx was in danger. He was as well, but Marx was- Magolor threw down the book in the chair and ran towards the exit as quickly as he could.
"Marx! Marx!" Marx was still where he had left him, poorly concealed behind a bush. He turned around at the sound of his voice. Magolor grabbed his hand and began to pull frantically, dragging a bewildered Marx behind him.
"Magolor, what's going on? Did something happen?" His roommate didn't respond, only repeating the words "come on" over and over. Magolor raced inside the library, back to the chair where he had been sitting and--
He stopped short. The book was gone. He let go of Marx's hand, racing back to the shelf where it had been. Nothing, even after a double check. He looked on the carts and even at the books other students held. The book was nowhere to be found.
"So what was that all about?" Marx had just watched his friend run up and down the library for seemingly no reason after having been pulled there out of nowhere. He was in dire need of answers.
“It-it’s gone, it was just here! I left it right here and someone took it!” Magolor was a good deal louder than he should’ve been, prompting another student at a nearby table to shush him. He continued more quietly. “There was a book here about wands that had Boss in it! Called him Nightmare, and said he was an evil spirit. That they locked him in a fountain with a magic wand key! He’s bad, Marx, its like they said about the-the poisonings! And arson! We’re being tricked, we have to get these, these things off! Now!” His paws pulled at the chain desperately, then scrabbled at the back of his neck, pulling the back of the chain to the front and unclasping it. “Quick! Get it off!”
“Put it back on! It was a gift! He isn’t evil, he just looks like someone from a long time ago who was? How do you know that’s not just his species? Or that they’re just really similar?” Marx’s own paw went to the pendant, holding it close to him.
“Spirits don’t have species! They don’t breed, they just exist and then die!”
“How do you know! You don’t know anything about spirits except what they told you in the assembly!” A thought flickered into Marx’s head. “And how awfully convenient that the book is just gone when you come in to show it to me! Is this some kind of trick? Or are you just scared of the plan?”
“We shouldn’t do it. We can’t! We don’t know anything about this guy. What if it’s all a big front and he actually is the guy in the book? No one’s actually named N. Emeritus, that’s just a title they give to professors! I looked it up! And it sounds like Nightmare!”
“Some people have weird names!”
“Marx we can’t-”
“Yes we can, and we’re going to. Or I’m going to, at least. With or without you. Even if he is evil, he’s right. The people here are terrible, and letting them out into the universe with any sort of power would be a mistake. I understand if you’re too scared, but it has to be done.”
But Marx was already walking away. He had brewing to do, after all. Magolor followed close behind, leaving nothing but a very confused eavesdropper in his wake. The walk across the grounds was silent. Maybe I am wrong. After all, Boss was very nice to them, and everything he’d done for them so far had helped them. Maybe things would be okay, like they’ve always been, and he’s just overreacting. But the drawing in that book still nagged at him. Even if it wasn’t him, maybe it was a family member of his? Though Boss did say that his species was strange...maybe part of it was that they all looked the same? The image was in black and white, so maybe the person in the picture was a different color entirely and it just wasn’t shown! Maybe that’s it.
But things could still go wrong. Someone could be burnt, or they could get caught before they escaped. Or someone could be in the buildings when they burnt them down. Anything could happen. Boss promised they’d be fine, but Boss couldn’t protect them in the real world. And if he didn’t go through with it, Marx would leave without him and the school would force him to confess. They’d both be in trouble. All Magolor could do was try to protect Marx the best he could.
They had arrived at the dormitory. Magolor put out a hand and gently grasped Marx’s shoulder, stopping him in place. “...Marx?”
He turned around. “Yeah? Got more nonsense for me?” Marx’s tone was clipped, and the sound of it was a bitter strike to the heart.
“...Just promise you’ll be careful, okay? Don’t go anywhere I can’t keep you safe.”
Marx’s expression softened immediately. “Okay.” He seemed to look everywhere but Magolor’s face, seemingly a bit ashamed. "It’s...this is our chance, Mags. Possibly our only one. I don’t want to leave you here alone. And um. Sorry...for getting mad at you again. I know you’re just looking out for me.” Marx opened the door and held it, allowing Magolor inside with him.
Night fell over the campus. The two walked to the library with full knapsacks, watching from the upper floor to count the people entering and leaving the building. On a school day the later classes ran until nine, then the janitors would arrive shortly afterwards to tidy up the building. Today an off day, so the only people inside were students doing extra work and the occasional staff member. They counted the people who entered and who left, watching as the lights went out in the various rooms. Soon the entire building was completely dark. The pair left the library and stepped inside the building. Marx had planned carefully, giving them a small window of time before the janitorial staff showed up to peel errant magic from the walls. Normally the entire building would be closed by now, but he had placed a small piece of wood in one of the sliding windows, preventing it from sealing properly when closed. Not that it mattered, as whoever had used the room last had evidently left both windows wide open. Marx boosted Magolor into the window, then Magolor pulled Marx up with him.
The halls were dark as the pair did a sweep to ensure no one was inside. Each unoccupied room received its very own baseball-sized hunk of explosive compound. Then they shimmied out through the same window and to the building immediately across from it, repeating their process. Magolor made sure to remove a cage of partially shaved, long-haired rats from the building with him, releasing them into the woods.
His own knapsack was empty, but Marx’s still had two rounded shapes weighing down the bottom. He set his pack on the ground, opening the top flap. “Now for the finale!”, he stage-whispered. He pulled the two glass bottles from his pack with a flourish. Each was corked and filled nearly to the top with a clear liquid.
“You brought water to the arson party?”
“It’s alcohol, Mags. For, I think they’re called bohboh cocktails? Anyways, they’re basically firebombs! I have a couple of rags and a lighter too. The lady running the general store gave me the weirdest look when I brought this stuff up to her. Ended up having to buy a bucket to throw her off.”
“You went to the general store? When did you even have the time for that?”
“While you were buying the ingredients, remember? I wanted to surprise you with something fun! We get to throw ‘em together!” He pulled the corks off of the bottles, hastily stuffing the rags into the holes. He handed one to Magolor, lighting it and then his own. They smoked, then blazed to life. Magolor nearly dropped it. Marx’s grip was firm, his eyes blazing with joy in the orange light. “I’ll get this building, and you can get the other one. Ready?” Magolor nodded and turned, pulling his paw back. We’re really doing this. I’m really doing this.
“On the count of three!” Marx could barely contain himself. Home. We’ll get to go home. The heat crawled closer to their paws, the light flickering on the walls and creating a glowing halo around each of them.
“One.” Magolor quietly steeled himself for what was to come. He couldn’t hesitate for even a moment.
“Two.” Marx inhaled the dark air around him, leaning into a throwing stance as he bounced.
“Three!” The bottles flew. The sound of shattering glass, then a blaze of orange light that grew steadily until the flames licked over the windowsill. Magolor stood silently and watched until Marx took his hand and led him away from the danger, up onto a nearby hill. It wasn’t far enough to be truly safe, but they wouldn’t be burnt.
The flames began to dim, then went out completely. The buildings grew dark once more. Silence.
Twisting blue and violet fire engulfed the entire room. It burst from the window, creating a shockwave of hot air that cooled to a warmth as it blew into their faces. The flames seemed to braid and creep across the brickwork like ivy, weaving into the windows and creating new bursts as they found more of the compound. Great tongues of fire tasted the air, reaching for anything nearby. Finding nothing close, they receded and continued wrapping the building.
“It doesn’t crackle at all…” The two of them stared wide-eyed at what they had done, one grinning, one completely unreadable. The fire had reached the top of the buildings, each part of it having fattened into a series of large wyrms. Magolor thought that he could make out the shape of a dragon’s head on one. They met at the top of each building. Each wyrm came together, twisting into one massive shape. The dragons’ heads were visible now, rising over the building to their full height. They opened their mouths at the same time. Crackles and crashes, the sound of splintering wood and popping pipes. All of the sounds of the fire came at once, combined into a horrible cacophony. Their mouths snapped shut. They shifted, one’s fire becoming red and blue, the other blue and gold. They arched backwards, then plunged through the roofs of the buildings, crashing through every floor before vanishing.
Faintly smoking husks were all that remained. Stars could be seen through the windows. One wall tipped inwards at the top and collapsed to the ground, bricks smashing against each other as they fell into a heap. They sat in silence for a while, watching what remained of the scene, before Marx turned to his partner.
“We did it. We did it!” A wild look seemed to course through his eyes. “The whole place is gone!” Magolor didn’t respond. He stared forward. A crawling feeling roiled in his stomach. He wanted to vomit.
“We shouldn’t have done this.”
“Yes we should’ve! It was perfect! Beautiful, even!”
“No, nobody good makes you burn down a building! This doesn’t feel right.”
“Why did you burn it down then, if you’re so morally opposed to it?”
“Because you could get hurt if I wasn’t there with you! ...Or leave…” The last part was barely a whisper. “But this isn’t-! We’re going to get in trouble!”
“Boss will protect us! He said he would!”
“Boss’ name is probably Nightmare, and we could’ve gotten killed! That dragon thing could’ve eaten us!”
“He is not Nightmare! We don’t even know if that guy’s real! Boss is real! He’s our friend! He’s been our friend for months and you still don’t trust him? After all he’s done? All he’s taught us, all those things that worked and you still think he’s lying! That’s he’s tricking us into doing his dirty work somehow? What would a fountain spirit want with a couple of students, huh?”
“Why would a teacher want us to burn down a school? No one does that! Teachers least of all! We’ve done something terrible, Marx! We need to run before someone gets here and catches us! Before he gets here!”
“No. I’m waiting for Boss.”
“You're leaving and I'm leaving too. Come with me! With us. Boss likes you, even though you don't like him.”
“I can't! I have family at home and they need me. Your boss' real name is Nightmare and he's crazy! Come with me instead! They can't arrest you for this if you're on Halcandra with me. We can buy ship tickets and get out! They run nonstop so no one could catch us!”
“You're the one who bought the stuff for the bombs in the first place! You helped me do this every step of the way!”
“And I was wrong! I was wrong about him, and this, and we need to go before someone shows up!”
“Too late.” The air itself felt like an aberration. It froze in Magolor’s lungs and overwhelmed his mind, freezing him in place, unable to breathe. A single, icy claw appeared from nothing and lifted him from the ground, wrapped around his middle. Two more claws began to pet his head. A pair of thin arms followed. A grey, sallow face with sharp teeth and glasses appeared, wearing a pointed blue helmet decorated with golden horns and flames. Last to arrive were blue pauldrons holding up a massive, star-spangled cape. A gold pendant hung from his neck.
“A shame, really. You chose to turn against me instead of coming with your partner in crime. I did warn you not to read that book." Nightmare's voice was smooth and breathy in a way that sent chills up the spine. "Oh well. We cannot have you telling anyone where he has gone.” The claws petting his head slowed, dragging their sharp points across Magolor's head. The threat was clear. Marx was frantic below them. Boss had never looked this way or acted this way before, especially not to them. And he mentioned the book. So Magolor had been right after all, and he hadn’t listened to him. But now...“Please, boss, don't do anything! He won't tell! We can just take him with us!”
“I am not in the habit of taking the unwilling. They tend to grow resentful. It makes for poor students, you see.”
“I won't tell anyone! I promise!” Magolor squeaked. He shrank inwards, quivering with fear.
“A promise, hm? Not a single soul?” The hand paused, claws pointedly digging into his head. “If I do let you go and you still tell someone, I will send something out to retrieve you. You will not like it in the slightest.”
“I won't tell anyone! Please! I promise!”
“Very well then.” A cold pair of claws slid across Magolor's throat, dragging something thin with them that met at the back of his neck. There didn't seem to be a clasp of any sort. “This is not to leave your person for any reason. Accidents are not an excuse, as it would take a concerted magical effort to break the chain. If you wish to change your mind, simply kiss the gem in the front. I have great and wonderful plans for you, Magolor. I do hope you reconsider sooner rather than later." Nightmare's hand moved to his ear, but there was no comfort in the action. It was wooden and methodical, a far cry from its usual affection, but Magolor couldn't identify how it had changed since the last time. It felt the same as it had before physically, but something about it made him want to vomit even more.
Worry and fear pulled at Marx's face. There was so much happening at once that he could barely wrap his mind around it. Everything was wrong, but...he couldn't be, could he? There was no way Boss was really evil. Maybe he was just mad. Marx knew a thing or two about that. Still, it wasn't right.
"Stop! Stop! Put him down! He didn't do anything!" His protests were louder than he had expected, but he pushed on. "You can't just...do things to people like that!"
"Oh? You did not object when the broom hatter burned, did you? Do actions only matter when you dislike them?" Nightmare leaned forward, hanging over him.
"But of course, I will put him down. But you must leave, with or without him. We have no time for sentiment, Marx. They are coming for you both." Shouting reached them over the grass and lights bounced towards the ruined buildings in a way that suggested very fast running. Nightmare turned Magolor around in his hand, tilting him upwards to speak to him directly. "They will imprison you if they catch you. I suggest you do not get caught. My associate will leave a small ship in the woods to the north for you. Go." He set Magolor down. The Halcandran stood there, staring at Marx.
“Please come.” Marx’s face was desperate, his tone pleading. Magolor nearly considered giving up from the sight of him alone. But he couldn’t will himself to. Marx stood there, looking back. Would he even have time to--a nearby shout denied him even that. A last, longing look, and Magolor raced into the woods.
Marx started after him on instinct, only to be stopped by a clawed hand curling around him, blocking his path. "He will return to us. It will be all right." Nightmare seemed confident in his statement. Marx stared into the trees.
"Maybe if we talk more we can convince him. If we had enough time.."
"Alas, we do not. At least not until we make our escape." Nightmare opened his cape with a flourish, revealing the starscapes within. "Come along now." Marx began to step into the direction of Nightmare's hand. "Into the cape." Nightmare punctuated his words by waving it slightly. Marx turned and stepped hesitantly into the blackness. The cape was clawed close around him, Nightmare curled over his new catch. Marx was in NME now, not his cape, but NME was merely where he held his prizes and possessions. He had worked for this for a long while. Only receiving half came as a disappointment, but he would retrieve the other part of the set soon enough.
There were lights outside the woods. Low voices were disappearing up the hill. Magolor was grateful for his lack of feet and his thick clothing as he darted across the lawns towards the dorms. Once inside his room he pulled his trunk from the closet and began to pull things into it. Clothing and books, leftover potion ingredients and stationery, all went haphazardly into the trunk. After a moment's hesitation, he began to pile Marx's things in too. The thunk of the lid seemed too loud in the darkness. The room felt empty and dead, unlived in, as if the sudden absence had drained all the energy from the room. There was a cold pit in the bottom of Magolor's chest.
A few finger-traced lines across the trunk lifted it smoothly into the air. It followed Magolor out the door and down the stairs, then back into the woods. No one was looking, as anyone awake was paying attention to the wreckage.
North, wasn't it? He rushed through the woods, his trunk barely managing to avoid the trees. Ten minutes of breathless sprinting rewarded him with a clearing containing a small, saucer-shaped ship made of a blue-grey metal. It was small and simple, so boring it was almost imperceptible amongst the trees. Magolor's investigation showed it had a full tank of fuel and even had a hatch on the back for storage. There was just one concern.
He had no idea how to fly it. Most people relied on the public travel system to move between planets. As a result, most people didn't even know how to start one. His family had a private ship, but he had never been allowed to fly it. He had to learn, and quickly.
His trunk flew into the storage compartment at his bidding. Magolor had the good sense to make sure the hatch was sealed before he hopped into the driver's seat. The space where he had expected dozens of buttons to be held only a few large ones and a steering wheel. The rest of the console was occupied by a small screen.
After a few moments of deliberation he chose to press a large green button. A schick was heard and he yelled as his ship collapsed on the ground. Evidently that button controlled the landing gear. The large yellow one lifted him gently into the air, the hum of thrusters only faintly audible in the cockpit. The screen lit up blue, loading a menu. He gripped the wheel, tilting it in all directions and feeling the ship follow. A trigger below the left side drove his ship dangerously near the ground. The right one lifted him far too quickly, leaving his stomach behind. The ship stopped short as he regathered his nerves and intestines, steeling himself for the final ascent.
Magolor took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and pulled the trigger. The ship broke over the treeline and sped into the night, then beyond it.