by Christine Nightstar
It had been one week since the commencement of the new school year at the Grimoire Academy of Applied Knowledge, and Timothy Hunter was quickly growing to dislike Devin Burgess more than anyone else he knew. Meanwhile, from the back of some of the classrooms, the mysterious student in black was still watching Tim, Rick Billings, and their friends, but so far only Tim and his closest friends had been able to see the figure. Headmaster Gallowglass assured the boy that he’d look into it, but Tim didn’t hold out much hope of that happening.
So far Tim’s favorite class was Mr. Drake’s, which, coincidentally enough, was the same class in which each and every day Devin whined about how he was persecuted. Burgess had assigned Naala the satyr and Tim as group leaders for the second-years, and the other two were fourth-years Joshua Cantrell and Alfred Twitchell. Josh and Twitch weren’t exactly in Tim’s corner on most things, since they looked down on him because of his age, but they weren’t in Devin’s corner, either.
Tim was tired of hearing how Devin should have been a group leader instead of the “goat-girl” or the “teacher’s pet,” as he called Naala and Tim. Tim was also annoyed by how Devin was always flaunting his father’s wealth and connections. He would brag about how his father, as the Lord Magus of the Order of the Ancient Mysteries, often held secret and not-so-secret meetings with famous people holding political or mystical power. The mystics that the famous Dr. Anton Burgess tended to congregate with were decidedly of the super-villain type, those who would usually threaten the Justice Society of America or Infinity Inc., two Earth-Bet super-hero teams that were basically the counterparts of the Justice League and the New Titans, as Rick had explained. (*) He could only remember the names of five such villainous mystics — the Wizard, Zor, Fredric Vaux, Bandar, and Haldane the Sorcerer — but he was sure there were others.
[(*) Editor’s note: Earth-Bet is the term for Earth-Two in mystical circles.]
Josh and Twitch were immune to Naala’s personality, finding her to be a bit of an airhead, even though she was helping both of them in different classes. Thanks to her real-world experience in the Hidden Land, Naala was tutoring Josh in enchantments, and tutoring Twitch in techno-magic. The reason they thought of her as an airhead was that she was always listening to music on her headphones while attending classes and even while reading textbooks, and never stopped moving to the rhythm of her music. She tended to be oblivious of anything said to her, and when she did talk about something, it was always related to fashion, music, food, or wine. The few times she spoke about magic and classes, she seemed like a know-it-all, though she wasn’t conceited or obnoxious about it as Burgess was, keeping what she said on those subjects short.
Tim found it fascinating how any one person could have so many versions of basically the same outfit. The only thing that she wore consistently was her hat. Tim once asked Patsy Ambrose if she’d seen how many outfits Naala had, and her response was, “I can’t count that high.”
Devin Burgess and his gang of friends — if you could call them that, since they were little more than toadying thugs — had been working hard to make it known that inhuman students like Naala were unwelcome at the Grimoire Academy. They had even gone so far as to write posters with the usual humans-only propaganda. Rick said he had found it interesting that Devin could plan all those threats and humans-only nonsense when his own friends seemed more inhuman than Naala did. Tim and Patsy agreed with him.
Naala’s actions didn’t suggest that she was paying attention to the posters or the threats or jibes out of class; she was too busy tutoring or just being Naala. A few times, however, some of the girls said that they’d seen her crying in the girls’ room and in remote places on the island.
Tim, Rick, Patsy, and a few others did their best to stick up for her, but the only thing that would really help was ensuring that all humans-only activities perpetrated by Devin were stopped. Still, there was no way that anything short of the headmaster’s direct intervention was going to make that happen. Tim knew that they had to do something serious — and possibly against the rules — to help out Naala and others like her. But what?
As Mr. Drake’s class began, the study groups sat at their tables together. Tim and Devin were sitting at opposite ends of the table, staring at each other with enough mutual contempt to fill the classroom. Naala was sitting between Tim and Josh, and Twitch was next to Devin.
Christopher Drake stood in the central hub of the room and said, “Now, before we begin, can anyone tell us what the difference is between spirits, faeries, and demons?”
“Spirits don’t have bodies, while the others do?” a confused student in the back said.
“Well, that’s a good start… Anything else?”
“Demons tend to be evil beyond comprehension?” came another response.
“Not quite,” said Mr. Drake. “Let’s set some ground rules for our discussions — things that can be proven. Spirits are non-corporeal entities capable of travel between dimensions, who have ties to people, places, animals, times, et cetera. Some can assume corporeal forms for indefinite amounts of times. Faeries are corporeal entities with strong ties to the spirit and dreaming realms, which they can travel to and from, and usually manifest themselves in forms that seem unusual or surreal to humans, like Miss Naala sitting over there; satyrs are a type of faerie. Forgive me for using you as an example, Miss Naala.” Naala blushed and tried to hide behind Josh. “Faeries also have a dual nature — a friendly, light personality, or Seelie, and a dark manipulative, evil personality, or Unseelie. Most tend to be renowned or notorious for some trait.
“Now we come to the final area of study — demons. Most demons began as corporeal creatures who were part-human or part-animal, and part-celestial, such as an angel-human hybrid. Because they belonged neither to the physical world nor to the spiritual world entirely, they ended up being denied any place in the afterlife when they died their first death. That’s why they are also referred to as wandering spirits, since they are always searching for a place to dwell, whether that’s a house, an animal, a human being, or other sentient creatures. Others started out as celestial or upper-plane beings and changed or evolved over time for reasons that mortals don’t understand, while others began as spirits, humans, or faeries, and changed as they reached levels of evil that are incomprehensible through acts of evil and depravity that ‘elevated’ them to a new level — a demonic level. And others can’t be explained as anything except evil alien entities.”
The students wrote down every word that was said by Mr. Drake, whose enchanted chalkboards had captured it all. Mr. Drake stopped to take a sip from a cup on his desk while he waited for everyone to finish. “Now that we have our definitions, can anyone name a type of spirit?”
“Ghosts, phantoms, and other once-living beings,” Devin said, a superior tone in his voice.
“Very good. Any others?”
“Totem spirits?” said a Native American student in a group next Tim and Naala.
“That’s another good batch.”
“Elemental spirits?” asked another. “And Djinn?”
“Yes, and there are many more.”
The students kept naming off types of spirits for the rest of the class, until all the chalkboards behind Mr. Drake were filled with their responses.
“Tomorrow we will compress all this and several other types of ‘spirit folk’ that we didn’t name yet down to something simpler to understand,” Mr. Drake said to the class. “I want you to read The Spirit World, chapters one through six, and answer all the questions at the end of the chapters. Nothing smaller than a paragraph to an answer, and remember that I use an anti-cheating ward, so if you are paying someone to do your homework for you or copying it from someone who has done their homework, it will be erased.” He looked straight at Devin Burgess as he said this. “And on Friday we will be going on the field trips, so have your permission slips signed and back to me by Wednesday.”
“I can’t believe there are so many types of spirits,” Rick said as he checked his notes against Naala’s as they walked out.
“He said that there were more, too, that we didn’t even think about,” replied Naala. “I wonder what he means.”
“I don’t know, but I’m going to start on my homework during dinner,” Tim announced. Rick and Naala agreed, and said they’d meet him in the cafeteria with their books.
Tim and Rick had observed the strange figure in black following them on the way to dinner, seeing it appear off of a reflection in a window. The figure was keeping a safe distance away from them, close enough to watch the two friends, but far away enough to keep from alarming them as it had in the picnic world. The strange figure still wore a black hood over its face and was moving very casually along with them.
When they met Naala and Patsy in the cafeteria, they were all talking about Mr. Drake’s class and how he was quickly turning into one of the best-liked teachers. He had scored many points with the students by putting the bullies and spoiled kids in their place in each of his classes.
As they turned their attention to reading the chapters that Mr. Drake had assigned, every once in a while Tim or Rick would look up to see if their voyeur was still around. They had enough space between them that they could read their textbooks and eat their dinner at the same time. Naala and Patsy had even devised a spell (which they weren’t sharing with the boys) that held their textbooks at eye-level above their plates, so they could read without letting their books get spattered with food.
Chapter one of The Spirit World basically covered everything that they had talked about today, including the difference between the types of spirits they were studying and some examples of each of those spirits. The questions were easy to answer, especially since there was a chart in the middle of the chapter they could use for reference.
Chapter two was a bit more difficult; it concerned spirits of the dead, such as ghosts, and the differences between these types of spirits and why they appear. The chapter cited many haunted places worldwide and named the types of beings that dwell there. The questions were not as easy to answer, since the answers were scattered throughout the text itself, so when they did find those answers, the students felt that they had accomplished something.
Each of the eight chapters in The Spirit World textbook was progressively harder than the previous chapter, and by curfew, when they were forced to break up their study session, the group felt too tired to carry on. Reading for the six-chapter assignment on the first real day of class felt hard, but it wasn’t as hard as what was in store for them the next day.
“Well, I see that many of you have completed the assignment… with little difficulty, I might add,” Mr. Drake said as he looked through the assignments briefly. He then sat on his desk and leaned back. “Tell me what you learned.”
“Spirits are among the most boring creatures out there,” Devin said.
“Substantiate that statement please, Mr. Burgess,” Mr. Drake replied.
“What do you mean ‘substantiate that statement’?” Devin asked with a sneer.
“I mean, how do you come to the conclusion that spirits are among the most boring creatures out there, when you have only glimpsed briefly into the different types, and from a source that has far from extensive expertise?” Mr. Drake picked up the textbook and flipped through the pages, waiting for an answer.
“Well, the nature spirits have all that power and want nothing more than to preserve the places, things, and people that they are tied to, when they could be using it for better ends,” Devin said.
“So,” said Mr. Drake, “a living spirit that wants nothing more than to preserve the things it cares about, or tries to better the things it cares about, rather using their powers and abilities for the better ends you spoke of — is boring?“
“I didn’t say that — that’s not what I meant,” Devin replied.
“OK, I’ll switch subjects,” Mr. Drake continued. “What do you think of the spirits of the dead?“
“Well, they are cool and all that,” Drake said, “but from the accounts given, it seems that they don’t seem very happy most of the time, and can be downright mean in certain circumstances.”
“Very insightful, not to mention intuitive. Thank you, Mr. Burgess.”
“Who wrote this textbook, Mr. Drake?” asked Naala.
“Anton Burgess and I, back when we were still friends in college,” replied the teacher. “The Spirit World was our master’s degree thesis.”
“What did you mean when you said the source had far from extensive expertise in it?” asked Naala.
“Dr. Burgess and I took spirits as a filler, because we needed something to support our different interests,” explained Mr. Drake. “His was demonology, while mine was necrology — demons and the dead. We both wanted to become the best specialists of our type, and we formed a friendship in college over that. When we left school, things changed for us and between us. He became a wealthy occultist when he stepped into his father’s shoes as Lord Magus of the Order of the Ancient Mysteries on Earth-Bet, while I became a traveling necromancer on Earth-Alpha.” A sheepish look passed over the teacher’s face before he added, “And… as fascinating as my past may be for you, we are now quite off-subject.”
A collective groan came from the class, who were just starting to see their teacher in a different light.
“We’ve talked about nature spirits and spirits of the dead, but what can you tell me about technological spirits, Mr. Hunter?”
Timothy Hunter gulped and spoke up. “They… they seem very similar to nature spirits in the creation/existence/decay cycle that they are tied to in regards to the birth/life/death cycle,” he said, repeating what he’d read. “And many of them seem to closely related to the animal spirits of the nature spirits in form, but they share many things with spirits of the dead as well. Somehow they seem to be a merging of the two types of spirits.”
“Very observant,” said Mr. Drake. “Anything else?”
“The similarities to those spirits of the dead lie in the fact that they are strongly tied to constructs rather than places or people,” replied Tim.
“Very good,” said Mr. Drake. “Well, you all have your textbook for reference to the types of spirits, and each week we will be studying the lore connected to those three types. Your assignment is as follows: in your groups, select a spirit type, go to the library, read three books on it each week, find the similarities between the spirits and the dissimilarities, discuss them in class, and submit a joint paper with everyone’s views on that type of nature spirit. Each week, one of you from the group will present the last week’s paper to the class.”
“What if the groups disagree on what type of spirit to study?” Naala asked, foreseeing conflicts with Devin.
“Each group will be studying different types,” explained the teacher, “but if you mean your own group can’t agree on the type of spirit, look at it this way — you have eight more weeks to study spirits before we move on to faeries. The last three will be covering the last two chapters of your spirit guide and your group’s papers, leaving five weeks for the five members to decide on the types of spirits that they will be studying.”
The groups looked at each other, taking the hint.
“Let’s draw numbers. Lowest goes first, highest goes last,” Josh Cantrell said in a hushed tone at their group’s table.
“Sounds fair to me,” Tim said. “No objections, Devin?”
“Why would I object, O wise and knowing group leader?” sneered Devin.
“Can the sarcasm, Devin,” said Alfred Twitchell. “The faster we agree, the sooner we can get working on the assignment and get done.” Devin looked at Twitch with disdain.
When the group drew numbers, Devin drew the one, Tim the two, Josh the three, Twitch the four, and Naala the five. Devin wore an obnoxious air of superiority on his face because he got to go first, until Josh elbowed him in the side and gave him a look that he was being a pain in the butt.
“Mr. Drake, should the spirit we study this week be a category or a particular spirit?” Devin asked.
“Keep it to broad categories for now, like totem spirits, rebirth spirits, and the like, Mr. Burgess,” replied the teacher. “In the catalog behind me are the spirit types that have at least fifteen books and or copies of books written about them in the library. Remember, you’re supposed to be separating truth from legend.”
“Well, then, I choose death spirits,” Devin said triumphantly to the group.
“Spirits connected with death, or spirits of the dead, Devin?” Twitch asked.
“I think he means spirits connected to death, Twitch,” Josh said in a very monotone voice.
“You’re not afraid, are you, Hunter?” sneered Devin.
“Of which,” asked Tim, “the spirits or the lore connected to them?”