by Christine Nightstar
Timothy Hunter had trouble sleeping that night because of the adrenaline that was pumping through his body from the scare outside Zatara Hall. Even though the lights were off, he still tossed and turned, trying to find a comfortable position. Again and again over that night, Tim punched his pillow, fluffing it, then got up and walked around in the dark and went to the bathroom, then back to bed, trying to find a comfortable position in which to sleep, but to no avail.
When the morning bells tolled, vibrating all the rooms in the dormitories, Tim put on his glasses and looked up and out the window at the dim sunlight peeking over the horizon. Was it morning already? He had only just gotten to sleep after collapsing from exhaustion.
Then Rick Billings burst back into the dormitory, dressed and ready for breakfast and the new day. “Come on, Tim! You don’t want to be late for breakfast,” Rick said. The energy he had at this time in the morning was positively repulsive to Tim, at least today. How could anyone be so cheery and happy when Tim had such a short night’s sleep?
Dragging himself out of his bed, Tim shot his best friend a look that might not have killed, but would have done deadly damage if he had the same level of power as the headmaster. Why did Rick have to just stand there and wait for him to get ready, when all Tim wanted was to go back to sleep for just a few minutes more.
“I’ll be down in a while,” Tim said in a quiet but terse tone of voice. “Just save me a glass of orange juice, OK?”
“OK, Tim, I’ll wait for you at the cafeteria.”
Breakfast was almost over by the time Tim finally reached the cafeteria, and not much was left to eat, but then he didn’t have much of an appetite, anyway. He grabbed a few slices of cold toast and an apple.
“You OK, Tim?” Patsy Ambrose asked as Tim nibbled on his toast and slowly the glass of orange juice Rick had saved for him.
“Just had trouble getting to sleep last night,” Tim muttered.
“No wonder you have circles under your eyes,” Patsy replied.
“Something bothering you?” Rick asked his friend.
“Yesterday, I kept seeing a figure in black,” explained Tim. “I tried to show you earlier, Rick, but the figure kept disappearing. And last night, I tripped on my way to the dorms and found an envelope made of a strange paper with pictures and notes about me. It was written in an language I don’t remember ever seeing before, but I can still read it as easy as pie. After all that, I couldn’t get any sleep last night, and I’ve got a feeling that someone is watching me even now.”
“Creepy,” Rick and Patsy said, almost at the same time.
Tim’s first two classes made his head hurt — occult history and ancient languages. He found himself thinking that it should be illegal to make someone think so hard so early in the morning. He wasn’t going to get out of doing it, either, not with the teachers he had. Baron Weirwulf was even more of a taskmaster he had been for the first-year history class Tim had attended last year, and Miss Eve had all the students review everything they’d learned in the first-year introduction to languages class.
The third class of the day, just before lunch, was the arcane lore class taught by the new teacher, Mr. Drake, who wasn’t exactly dressed for a typical class. Instead of wearing the cloak that most teachers used during their classes, he was dressed very casually, in a plaid button-down shirt with dark blue jeans.
“Hello, everyone,” said the teacher as the students settled into their seats. “My name is Christopher Drake, in case you missed it last night. I hold doctorates in archaeology, occult lore, and demonology from Arkham University. You don’t have to call me Dr. Drake, however. Mr. Drake or sir will be sufficient. Any questions?”
Several others raised their hands along with him, so Tim was surprised when he was called on. “So what does this class cover?” he asked. “I heard the description. What does it mean?”
“Good question, Mr. Hunter,” replied Mr. Drake. “Over the next year, we will be examining three types of arcane lore common to everyday magic of the type that many of you will encounter as adults, and that the gifted ones among you may end up practicing. With this class, you’ll be able to learn how to discern facts from fiction, and every month we will have two field trips to study each of these three types of arcane lore — spirit, faerie, and demon lore, in that order.”
“We’re going to study demon lore?” said a voice at the back of the class, one of the students from Maugris Hall. “Cool!”
“And your name?” prompted the teacher.
“Devin Burgess, sir,” said the boy with a haughty tone and an upper-class English accent.
“Yes, you are, Mr. Burgess, but not until you’ve proven you can handle the other types,” explained the teacher.
“Patricia Ambrose, sir,” said Patsy after the teacher pointed at her. Lowering her hand, she asked, “Will we be interacting with spirits, faeries, and demons, Mr. Drake?”
“No more than you already have in the course of your regular studies, Miss Ambrose,” he replied. “What do you think powers a good portion of ritual magic but those three types of entities?”
The class looked at each other with an astonished expression on their faces. In their first-year classes, they hadn’t been exposed much to the idea that there were entities behind most of the magic that was performed. The kind of magic they had been exposed to up until now had been simple forces; the idea that sorcerers appealed to entities both good and evil to perform magic was a forbidding thought, even if few members of the class would become sorcerers themselves.
“But I will help protect you from the more malevolent entities out there,” added Mr. Drake. “Studying those is reserved for the advanced classes, anyway. For now, during our first week, we will all be getting to know each other and finding out our strengths and weaknesses.”
The students looked at each other again as he walked into the middle of the classroom, looking at all the students, who were seated in a circle facing inward. Was he crazy? They had already spent a good portion of the previous year getting to know each other.
“You will be divided into work groups of five, with two leaders,” continued the teacher. “I will select your groups so there will be no cliques forming in them. The two leaders will be responsible for the way the group presents their findings, opinions, and everything else. But this class isn’t about working in a group; it’s about the lore, or the facts as they may be. Your work groups will be posted at the end of the week.”
“Does that mean that we will have work with someone who definitely not in the same ‘class’ as we are, Mr. Drake?” asked Devin Burgess.
“It means that you will have to work along with others and listen to them, if they are your group leaders,” replied Mr. Drake. “And as I choose the groups and their leaders, it’s not a good idea to irritate me, Mr. Burgess.”
“My father will have something to say about this,” the boy said in a haughty but hushed tone.
“Unless your father wants to take this class, he’ll have nothing to say about this, because how I treat you in this class is fair and just. Don’t think your family influence or wealth will get you better treatment from me. And tell your father, Mr. Anton Burgess, that Dr. Christopher Drake sends his regards.”
Devin stood up to storm out of the classroom, when he suddenly felt his feet lift from the ground, and he found himself deposited back into his seat, with Mr. Drake looming over him angrily.
“In my class, young Burgess, you will abide by my rules, and nobody leaves until I dismiss them,” the teacher said with a low, threatening growl. “And in the contingency that you are planning to disrupt my class, I have put a little behavior-modifier charm on you. I don’t particularly care for spoiled rich kids, or spoiled kids in general, but I do expect the kids in my class to treat myself and their fellow students with a modicum of courtesy and respect. Understand?”
Devin Burgess quietly mumbled, “Yes, sir.” Then, receiving a harsh look from Mr. Drake, he said again, loudly and clearly this time, “Yes, sir.” The defeated tone of his voice meant that he understood he wasn’t going to be calling the shots in this class.
Beginning with those next to Devin, Mr. Drake had each student introduce himself or herself, telling the class a few things about themselves. The teacher remained silent as he scratched down his notes. When the bell signaling the end of the class and the start of lunch rang, most of the students made a mad dash for the door. The teacher held Drake Burgess down until the classroom had nearly cleared, and Timothy Hunter was the only student who had remained behind to ask him a question.
“Young Burgess, you’re dismissed now,” said the teacher. “But if you ever try to pull a stunt like that again in my class, I won’t just punish you like I did today. No, you will suffer the worst punishment I am capable of.”
“Yes, Dr. Drake,” Devin replied, glancing over at Tim with hatred. Apparently, Tim’s witnessing the whole ordeal was much worse for him than the actual ordeal itself. Tim averted his eyes as Drake left the room, glaring at Tim the whole time.
“Mr. Drake, sir,” Tim said finally, as he approached the teacher’s desk, “I was wondering if you could help me with something…”
At the cafeteria, lunch was a simple affair today, consisting of a hot roast beef sandwich with cheese and other toppings, some potato chips, and a bowl of soup.
After talking with Mr. Drake, Tim had felt famished for some reason, and he got himself two sandwiches and piled them with his favorite toppings. There was also something about the soup that was unusual, too. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but he wolfed it down almost as fast as his sandwiches. He looked at the potato chips and wondered how someone could make something this greasy and salty. He gave his bag of chips to Naala the satyr, who ate the bag, wrapper and all. Today she was wearing a T-shirt with a tiger and dragon facing each other on the outside of a yin-yang symbol, along with the school vest and long skirt, along with the hat she wore the day before.
“The bag is a little plasticky-tasting, but the rest is good,” she said.
“Uh… Naala, you do know that you were just supposed to eat the potato chips and not the bag, right?” asked Rick Billings.
“Why? The bag’s usually the best part,” Naala replied. Patsy, Tim, and Rick just looked at her strangely before she asked, “What?” The whole group just laughed.
Devin Burgess yelled across the room, where he sat with the others from Maugris Hall, “Hey, goat-girl, do you want my bag, too? I’m not going to eat it.”
Naala looked at Burgess with a look that could kill and coolly replied, “I only accept things that my friends give me, not anything from some garbage-dwelling rat. Never know where it’s been.”
“Why, you impertinent inhuman beast,” Devin cried, rising to his feet. “I should kill you for that.”
“Just try it, Burgess,” said Naala. “You won’t even get close enough.”
Devin Burgess, his face full of unrestrained rage, withdrew something from his inside vest pocket, a wand the boy had smuggled out from one of the classrooms, when he felt a large hand grasp around his wrist.
A voice said from behind him in a very gruff voice, “If you want to get yourself expelled, continue with that spell. But know that, if you kill her, you will be taken before the headmaster, who will pronounce his own sentence on you.” Standing behind Devin was the bear-like form of Baron Weirwulf.
“She insulted me and my family, Baron!”
“And you’ve insulted her and hers,” said the Baron. “Let it drop, Mr. Burgess. Your father may have enough influence to get you into the school, but he does not have enough to protect you from the headmaster’s anger.”
“This isn’t over, goat-girl!” shouted Devin.
“I bet it is, garbage rat,” Naala replied, sticking out her tongue at the b0y the moment the Baron’s back was turned.
“As for you, young satyr,” said Baron Weirwulf, turning toward her, “Keep your tongue in your mouth. A tongue that sharp should stay in its scabbard.”
It took Naala a moment to figure out what he had said before she stifled a giggle.
The one o’clock magic and ethics class with Professor Ramphastos in the cave was as hot and humid as it could get on a South Pacific island. In fact, it was so stiflingly hot and humid, that most of the students had taken off their vests. Some of the boys were even talking about taking off their shirts. Of course, most caves were cool and would offer a respite from the tropical heat, but the toucan-like Feitheran preferred warmer temperatures than humans and had chosen this cave because of the hot spring that heated it from within.
“I know that the heat and the humidity is hard on you, so I will keep this short and to the point,” said Professor Ramphastos. “If you do wish to wear next to nothing in my class, at least wear your shirts and shorts, gentlemen. Ladies, you are welcome to wear your school swimsuits, if you wish. Today I will keep the class short to prevent you from falling unconscious sooner than you normally would in a class like mine.
“We will be talking about how our decisions involving magic influences those around us for the first month. After that, we will split into discussion groups and take on different hot topics, such as the hunting of magical creatures, and whether non-humans are due the same respect that humans are, and vice versa.”
The class continued as the Feitheran took attendance and began a class discussion about the students’ experiences with magic and the supernatural so far. Finally, Professor Ramphastos ended the class an hour and a half early, noticing how subdued the students had become because of the heat. “That is the end of our time together today. Tomorrow I will expect you to stay for the whole two-hour session.”
“That was intense,” Tim said as he left Professor Ramphastos’ classroom cave. Next to him, Naala was showing no signs of sweating or suffering from the heat, like Tim and Rick were.
“Well, I thought it was refreshing, but since he says I can wear my school swimsuit to class, I will,” Naala said with smile. Tim then noticed that her little tail was wagging excitedly from side to side, so he elbowed Rick and pointed at it. Rick giggled.
“I know you two like looking at my tail, so that’s another reason I get to do it, too,” she said, winking at them as she headed to her dorm.
With their next class scheduled for three, the two thirteen-year-old boys had an hour and a half to kill, so they were going to do what all kids did when given a chance to get out early: goof off.