by Christine Nightstar
Looking at one of the clocks in the hall, Timothy Hunter saw that it was about 1:45 P.M. Lunch seemed like ages ago, and the dinner feast at seven o’clock seemed to be ages away as well. He decided that he could either sit around and feel sorry for himself or go find something to snack on while orientation for the new students went on.
Tim was munching on an apple as he walked past both the bestiary and the clock tower to an area he hadn’t seen before. There was a cave with an opening about ten feet high, which was very hot and humid. The mouth of the cave, in turn, opened up into larger region with stone benches and desks.
“Can I help you, student?” a voice from the back of the cave asked. The room seemed hotter as the voice came at him. He could see heat radiating from pools of what looked like molten rock near the far the end of the classroom, as well as one large shadow moving around.
“I was just passing by and saw this cave… and decided to look into it,” Tim explained sheepishly.
“Curiosity kills, you know. Don’t you, student?” Then the bird-man from Feithera came into the light, holding several scroll cases. Ramphastos wore a long, dark cloak, and specially made glasses rested over his ample beak and covered his eyes, making the Feitheran look scholarly. But Tim didn’t think for one second that this bird-man was incapable of taking care of himself with a class of students.
“I guess so,” Tim said with a dry throat as he tried to slowly inch his way out of the cave. “I’ll be going now, Professor.”
“What is your name, student?” Ramphastos didn’t even look at Tim when he asked. Instead, he was putting the scrolls on the shelves, which was situated behind a large rock between the two molten rock pools. He looked at each scroll before deciding which rock shelf it would go onto.
“Timothy Hunter, sir,” he replied.
“Ah, yes. I have you down for my one o’ clock class,” replied the Feitheran. “Don’t be late, Mr. Hunter. You may go now.”
Tim nearly dropped his apple as he slowly backed out of the cave. There was something very unnerving about being so up close and personal with such an alien-looking species. He’d seen quite a lot during his first year at Grimoire, but the bird-man from Feithera chilled the boy to the bone. After a quick run to the bathroom, he went to find Rick.
Rick Billings hadn’t been able to get close enough to Ramphastos to ask him any of his questions, especially since he’d been distracted by one of the newer students. Her name was Naala, and she was as unique as her name sounded.
Naala stood about five foot four. Her chestnut-brown hair was worn short, the hat she wore was pushed up toward the back of her head by two three-inch-long, three-quarter-inch-thick horns jutting from her temples, and her torso was covered by an oversized T-shirt with a picture of Darth Vader on it. The denim vest she wore over the T-shirt was the same color and shade of the denim skirt she wore. She also had a leather wineskin slung around her waist, just off her belt. Rick explained that she and her family had come from a dimension called Gemworld, which was connected to the same Earth as Tim, though she had spent a few years living in the Hidden Land with the population of Homo Magi who resided there. It was through her Homo Magi friends that she had become immersed in human popular culture, since even though the Homo Magi were mostly kept away from the rest of humanity, the more youthful ones among them had been remotely using their magic to smuggle in entertainment from the outside world. Like Tim and Rick, she had also been placed in Zatara Hall, the student residence hall that housed a mixture of students from Earths One and Two, as well as a few from the other three Earths.
After being introduced, Tim noticed with a start that, although she was more-or-less normal-looking from the waist up, she had hairy legs and cloven feet. “You aren’t human, are you?” he asked meekly. This was beginning to feel like a recurring theme this year.
“I should hope not,” replied Naala. “Do you know how much trouble humans get into? Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean it that way. I’m a satyr.”
Tim and Rick laughed at her reply, and she looked at them like they were crazy. “You’re right,” said Tim. “We do get into a lot of trouble, but I’ve never heard of a female satyr before.”
“We’ve been around for ages,” sighed Naala. “We mostly look like the males, but without horns, and with, well… female parts as well, obviously. It’s just that, thanks to Pan, our society has been so male-dominated, it wasn’t until about fifty years ago that women were allowed to do anything fun — just stay home and cook, clean, drink, have sex, and the usual boring things.”
Tim and Rick’s eyes widened to the size of saucers when she mentioned sex. “You haven’t had… I mean, you’re not…” Tim started to ask, but he was interrupted by Rick.
“You know who that is on your T-shirt, don’t you?” Rick asked.
“Yeah,” said Naala. “It’s Darth Vader. I chose this shirt because he’s sooo cool.”
“You do know that basically he’s an evil wizard, right?” Rick continued.
“It’s a fantasy story,” countered Naala. “Of course he’s evil. It wouldn’t be much of a story if there wasn’t an evil wizard in it. It’s that he’s so good at being bad that makes him a cool character. And, Tim, of course I haven’t had sex yet. My dad would kill me if I did at my age. But the way my mom describes it, it’s more of a chore than a pleasure.” She giggled as she noticed that the two boys were sweating by this time.
“How old are you, Naala?” Rick asked as they escorted her to the girls’ dorms at Zatara Hall.
“I’m thirteen,” she said. “How old are you two?”
“I just turned thirteen,” Tim replied.
“I’m thirteen and a half,” said Rick proudly.
Naala nodded. “But at least I’m old enough to drink,” she added. “Like some wine?“
“Is that real wine?” Rick asked as Naala downed a gulp from her wineskin. He had always heard that European parents let their kids have wine, but this was something else.
“My dad made it himself, straight from his vineyards,” Naala said with a grin. “Blackberry, my favorite.”
“No, thanks,” said Tim hurriedly, grabbing his friend and walking away. “We have to get going. See you at the feast, Naala!”
As they walked away from Naala and the girls’ dorms, Rick looked at him like he had gone crazy. “Why’d you do that, Tim?” he asked. “We could have had a taste of some wine.”
“You are such a bloody dork,” said Tim. “If we’re found drinking, it means we could get expelled, or worse. Let her have her wine. Like she said, at least she’s old enough to drink.”
“But, Tim…” Rick whined as they walked to the boys’ dorms at Zatara Hall to change for the feast, moping all the way.
Last year the feasts had defied description, with foods of every kind on the tables, and several that Tim had never even knew existed. There had been several elegantly set tables before the teachers’ table at the front of the hall, which had a small podium in the middle. But this year the settings were all bare. Tim and the other students mulled about, finding seats next to their friends as they wondered where the feast was.
All of the teachers were in their finest outfits, it seemed, except for one, the dark-haired new teacher that Tim had seen earlier. Ramphastos was the only one missing. As far as Tim was concerned, that was fine with him. When he had attended the Feitheran’s class, he had tried to blend in with all the other students as much as possible. But Rick had blurted out the question that had been bugging him since that morning, asking Ramphastos if he knew Northwind, and if he could somehow get his autograph and those of the other members of Infinity, Inc., whatever that was. The Feitheran responded with no words, but only a cold, icy stare that made Rick wish he had never been born, and made Tim and all the other students shrink back. Even Tim, as young as he was, could tell that talking about Feithera in general and Northwind in particular was a touchy subject for the teacher. Finally, the teacher had continued with his class introduction, and the students had breathed a sigh of relief.
By the time all the students had seated themselves in the feasting hall, there was a loud flash-bang as Headmaster Gallowglass appeared at the podium, simultaneously causing the open air before him to explode. Now having the attention of everyone in the hall, the one-eyed headmaster began speaking. “Attention, attention, all. I have a few announcements before we start on the feast. First, I’d like to introduce some of our new teachers. You all saw Professor Ramphastos this afternoon, who will be teaching ethics in magic as well as botany. He is unable to attend this feast due to a personal situation that has come up.”
Tim and Rick both gulped, as it seemed that the headmaster’s intact right eye suddenly glared at them for a moment before he continued speaking. Could Ramphastos have been so offended by Rick’s question that he had decided not to go to the feast? Tim wondered again what was behind the apparent animosity the Feitheran had with his own people, and this Northwind in particular. And could a teacher who hated his own people be trusted with students?
“At the end of the table is Mr. Christopher Drake, who will be teaching arcane lore this year, while Mr. Lucien is taking a well-deserved sabbatical. As a reminder, students in Mr. Drake’s class who would like to go on the field trips must collect permission forms to send to your parents or guardians.” The long-haired teacher stood up and held his glass in salute before sitting down. For some reason, Mr. Drake didn’t seem to be the in the library-type researcher to Tim, looking more like an adventurer like Mr. Peril, but with more of a devil-may-care attitude. He was certainly a far cry from the bookish Mr. Lucien, who was an actual librarian.
“Next to him is our new fringe science and technology teacher, Miss Racquel Reynolds.” The large but shapely woman with blonde hair wearing a cowboy hat and pantsuit stood up holding her glass in salute, just as Drake had done, before sitting back down.
Looking at her, Joshua Cantrell poked Alfred Twitchell and said quietly, “Look at the rack on her. I bet you could get lost in there, Twitch.” As the two fourth-year students laughed, they suddenly received two kicks under the table, one from Patsy Ambrose and the other from Naala, who were both sitting across from him.
“Ouch! What’d I do to deserve that?” Josh asked with an air of indignation as he rubbed his leg under the table.
“You were being a pig, Joshua Cantrell!” said Patsy.
“As if the boys back where I came from weren’t bad enough,” Naala added.
“Well, at least I don’t have to beg to get a date,” countered Josh.
“This year, if your attitude doesn’t change toward us girls, you will have to beg, Josh,” Patsy threatened.
“Are you quite done, Mr. Cantrell?” said the headmaster suddenly. All of the students at the Zatara Hall table suddenly piped down, and Mr. Gallowglass continued. “And here is our new school physician and mystical healing instructor, Dr. Marisa Mortale.” A younger woman stood up with brown hair and, like the other two new teachers, raised her glass in salute before sitting down. She had more of a motherly look compared with Miss Reynolds or the other female teachers, and she wore a conservative blouse jacket and skirt.
“Finally, I’m proud to announce that our good groundskeeper, Mr. Frankenstein, who has been with us nearly since the very beginning, is our new cryptozoology instructor after assisting Professor Xiang for far too many years without a promotion.” Adam Frankenstein, standing at the back of the hall and towering over everyone, gave the merest nod of his head in acknowledgement of his promotion, then turned and shuffled back to the bestiary. “Before I forget, I’m letting you all know now that there will be no activities allowed, until further notice, in the bestiary without Mr. Frankenstein’s permission. We have gained a few new monsters over the break, and he is trying to acclimate them to their new environment. Now, without further adieu, let us eat.”
And then, with a mere gesture from Headmaster Gallowglass, there suddenly appeared on the tables foods from every culture and of every type imaginable, in quantities suited for all attending. Gareth Gallowglass wasn’t known as a master of the impossible for nothing.
For some reason, Tim realized, the food on this night tasted better than any other he’d had previously. The teachers looked like they were enjoying their meals just as much as the students. Then Tim noticed something as he reached for some butter for a roll. The student — or whoever it was — dressed all in black had returned and was silently standing in a far corner. When he asked Rick who the person in black was, his best friend said that he didn’t see anyone over where Tim had indicated, and indeed, when Tim looked again, there wasn’t anyone there. Was Tim losing it and just seeing things, or what?
Later, after the feast was over, and everyone was heading back toward their residence halls to spend the last couple of hours before bedtime, Tim tripped on something he couldn’t see in the darkness of evening and fell to the ground. As he picked himself up, thankful that there had been no one around to see him fall, he found an envelope on the ground made of a paper unlike anything he seen before.
Opening up the envelope, Timothy was astonished to find within it photographs of an infant, then a toddler, and then a little boy on the first day of grade school. It was very strange, because Tim quickly recognized that these were all pictures of him. A few of them even included his late mother, Mary, who had died when he was young.
There were also notes on a type of paper that he had never seen before, written in a language and handwriting style he had also never seen before. But to his astonishment, though it looked like chicken scratches to him, he could still read it word for word. On the front of the envelope was his name, Timothy Hunter.
First Tim had seen a mysterious student, and now he had found a mysterious envelope full of pictures and notes about him in a language that he never remembered seeing but could still read as if it were English. A chill shot up his back.
Then he nearly jumped out of his skin when a large hand wrapped around his shoulder. “Are you all right, boy? You aren’t hurt, are you?” came the soft but husky voice of the island’s groundskeeper, Adam Frankenstein.
“Uh… no… no, I’m not, Mr. Frankenstein,” sputtered Timothy. “Thank you, but I must be going now.” And he ran off toward Zatara Hall.
“And remember, no running in the halls!” Frankenstein’s monster shouted after Tim.